I was very disturbed by what I witnessed during my visit to St Francis Tower yesterday to meet residents. A massive shrink wrap now covers the Tower. My constituents are literally living in the dark, virtually no natural sun light. No consultation and they’ve been told it could all last 18 months.
Bizarrely construction work on the building hasn’t even started. I fear that this will be debilitating to the mental health of my constituents.
The building manager has shown a total lack of respect and regard to St Francis Road residents and it cannot continue.
I have already written one letter to the building manager but will be sending a second very strongly worded letter following my visit. I will also be alerting the Housing Minister and raising in Parliament as many times as I need to until this is sorted.
As a word “angry” doesn’t do justice to the emotions I felt when I left the Tower.
A few weeks ago, I received a letter from Sammy Steven who is a customer at the Papworth trust on Foundation St in Ipswich, which is a trust which does fantastic work supporting the disabled community in Ipswich and adults with learning disabilities. When the lockdown started, they were very down and didn’t know how they would cope. Because of the exceptional work done by the staff and volunteers they made it work and they created a lockdown journal. They became journalists and wrote about their experiences so they will remember them forevermore and they also tried new things. They became poets and music instructors. I asked Jacob Rees-Mogg if the Government would find time for us to debate in the House of Commons how we fund and how we structure these services to support adults who have got learning disabilities, but also to focus on what they can do positively, not always on what they can’t.
Jacob Rees-Mogg responded by saying that we should always think about what people can do and we should always be positive as a society. He told me that he was glad to hear about the work of the Papworth Trust. He acknowledged that organisations like this are a lifeline of support for some of the most vulnerable in our communities and everything that can be done to support them should be done.
What a wonderful place the Papworth Trust centre on Foundation Street is. Sammy one of the customers sent me a hand written letter about the Lockdown Journal publication they’ve all worked on detailing their experiences throughout the pandemic.
When the centre wasn’t able to operate normally the staff put in a huge amount of work making sure they could run sessions virtually and they made it work. The Papworth Trust and its staff have been a lifeline of support to some of the most vulnerable within the Town and I couldn’t speak more highly of what they do.
Sammy has actually taken up poetry throughout the lockdown and one of her poems, “A storm is a brewing” was actually published in the “Lockdown Journal”.
Due to the hardwork and dedication of staff and volunteers for many customers the last year will be a time they look back on with some fond memories. What as a very challenging situation for the Trust was confronted and something brilliant came out of it.
They have my full support going forward and I’m going to be in touch with them this week to discuss what more we can do to work together.
I voted in favour of an amendment (the Lord Bishop’s Amendment) to the Fire Safety Bill which sought to protect leaseholders from the remediation costs associated with all fire safety defects (not just cladding). As you may know I was an early signatory to the McPartland-Smith amendment which was very similar but was voted down by the House of Commons on the 22nd March. I was disappointed that that vote was unsuccessful and hoped that the Lords Amendment would pass today. Unfortunately, it did not.
This is the second time I’ve voted against the Government on this key issue and it’s not something I take lightly, but given that there had been no material change between the last vote and this one in a way that would see many of my constituents better protected, I felt that I had to once again vote this way.
I’ve always been clear that my priority is to represent my constituents and it’s possible that from time to time this will involve me voting a different way from my Party colleagues. Yes, when people voted for me, they voted for a Conservative MP, but I also believe that people hoped they were voting for someone who was prepared to make difficult decisions that put their constituents first.
Over the past year the Government have outlined a range of support for leaseholders (in the Billions) and many of my constituents who are leaseholders have received the support they need. However not all. When discussing this matter with Ipswich leaseholders I have been clear that I do not want any leaseholder to be left behind, and sadly at this stage, many still are.
This issue is not just about cladding. Many leaseholders live in properties where there are fire safety defects that need to be urgently addressed including wall insulation, fire doors, wooden balconies and fire brakes. Sometimes remediating these issues can cost thousands of pounds and it is resulting in leaseholders being unable to sell their properties as many mortgage lenders are refusing to lend, essentially making many of the properties valueless.
These leaseholders have bought their properties in good faith and are not to blame for these fire safety defects, and I fail to see why they should be forced to saddle the costs.
Ultimately the taxpayer shouldn’t have to bear the cost of this either. Those who should pay are those who are responsible. Whether it’s the builders or the management agents.
I have had many detailed discussions with the Housing Minister over this matter and he has made clear to me that the Building Safety Bill will be the place to resolve these issues. However, a key concern for me is there isn’t currently much detail regarding this, and I haven’t been given a clear timeline for when this new Bill will be in place and when the uncertainty and anxiety that many of my constituents face will be ended. Ultimately this is what led to me voting again the way I did today.
Since the moment I was elected I’ve done everything I can to support leaseholders in Ipswich and I will continue to do so.
Today I asked the Prime Minister a question about the importance of grassroots sports clubs in Ipswich, particularly boxing clubs and the support they will get. In the summer I visited Patrick’s Boxing Club which got help in the first lockdown but, like others, is struggling at the moment with fixed costs such as rent and utility bills. I also mentioned Unity FC and the Ipswich Kickboxing Academy as well which has a fantastic ‘jab not stab’ scheme which helps combat crime and antisocial behaviour.
I sought assurances that when he considers further support for these crucial clubs which are based in some of the most deprived parts of our town, that he will take into account not just the benefits for physical and mental health but also the key role which they play to keep kids on the straight and narrow, to keep them out of harm and trouble which makes such a fantastic contribution to our town.
The Prime Minister assured me that the Government would be supporting these clubs with an extra £210 million of funding to help wonderful community institutions such as Ipswich Kickboxing Academy through this pandemic. He also reminded me that Ipswich will be benefitting not just from kickboxing jabs but from vaccination jabs as well to help us get through this crisis faster.
Yesterday was International Men’s Day and it was important to raise the issue of men’s mental health in the Chamber. Mental health in our society was an issue before this pandemic, but given the impact of the last few months on everyone’s mental health, awareness of our mental wellbeing has never been higher. And we must use some of this focus to encourage men to talk about mental health and do away with the notion that somehow talking about it is a sign of weakness.
I spoke about my own dad, who a couple of years ago would have most likely taken the stiff upper lip approach to talking about mental health. But being older and having to shield during this pandemic he has spoken about it with me and I think that’s a good thing. Hopefully more of these conversations can happen across the country.
I also spoke about the great support group set up by Penny, the Landlady of the Kingfisher Pub in Chantry. She spoke to me in the summer about wanting to do something to help men’s mental health in the community and the support group she’s set up already has 33 members with the group growing every day. Of course talking about mental health is still easier said than done for many men and the pub has also set up an allotment at Robin Drive where men can go and just have some peaceful time away and grow vegetables to be served in the pub. It’s important these kind of ways men can focus on their mental well-being go hand-in-hand with more encouragement to talk about the pressures they’re under.
Penny and the support group have ambitious plans about how the support group can grow and reach more people and I’ll back them all the way. And I’ll keep raising the importance of addressing mental health across the board in Parliament.
I spoke yesterday about the need for certainty as soon as possible across a number of key areas. I was able to relay to the Minister some of the concerns that were raised with me last Friday by year 10 and 11 pupils at Stoke High School about how they will be assessed this year, I was also able to raise the concerns that have been communicated to me by the retail and hospitality sectors in Ipswich.
This also follows a letter I received yesterday from Ipswich Central. Ahead of the 2nd December (end of national lockdown) they need certainty asap about what things will look like after this date. They need to be able to plan now and every day of extra planning matters and will make a huge difference in determining whether or not they will be able to make up some of the lost ground they are experiencing this month.
The Government should soon be outlining what the plan is post 2nd December soon and though I’m confident this will not involve an extension of the national lockdown, we need to know asap what any new locally tiered system will look like and where Ipswich will end up.
Special educational needs is one of things I’m most passionate about. Since my election I became a member of the Education Select Committee in Parliament and locally I have become an Associate Governor of the Sir Bobby Robson school on Lindbergh Road which started up this September and provides tailored support for those with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.
The Sir Bobby Robson school has made a positive start and will hopefully turn the lives around of many of the young adults who have started there this September. However its a sad reality that not everyone who could benefit from a place at a special school such as the Sir Bobby Robson school is able to get a place. This academic year in Ipswich we are seeing two new special schools but we need more. We also need to ensure that those with special educational needs who are within a mainstream school get the support they need, I did but many don’t this is a great unfairness that I’m determined to be part of addressing.