Yesterday I asked the Children’s Minister about the £220 million expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food programme through Easter, Summer and Christmas in 2021. Ipswich was one of the pilots of the programme, and I saw it in action when I visited Inspire Suffolk with the Children’s Minister in the summer. One of the key ways the activities were able to benefit the children was the participation of different local organisations and young people from Ipswich in delivering the pilot. And It’s important that when this programme comes back and is rolled out across the country, that schools, childcare providers, voluntary organisations can all play a role, as the Minister also underlined.
The programme provides meals for children during the school holidays as well as keeping them engaged in activities and exercise. And it’s important it’s rolled out with as much involvement from the community as possible to make the most of it. I’ll be keeping a very close eye on the expansion of the programme next year and I’ll do everything I can locally to help make sure the community is completely aware of how they can get involved.
Used a question in the House today to welcome the £5.2 million investment in an new Molecular Lab for Ipswich Hospital which will allow our Hospital to keep increasing testing up to 3,000 Covid-19 tests a day by the end of March. (It was actually the Prime Minister who was planned to respond to my question today. But the Health Secretary had to step in at the last minute when his virtual connection to Parliament broke.)
The news of this investment was released to the Hospital on 11 November after I wrote to the Health Secretary on 29 October calling for this new lab to be approved. I had been informed by the Hospital that testing there was at capacity and the lab they were working in wasn’t appropriate for scale of the task, but their bid for this new Molecular Lab was essentially sitting on Ministers’ desks just waiting for final approval.
It’s crucial that Ipswich Hospital is where it needs to be on testing and it’s good we were able to get this investment into the Hospital where it’s needed. These tests will also be turned around in hours, rather than days as was the case at the start of the pandemic when all tests had to be analysed in Cambridge before being returned.
The new lab will also have long-term benefits for Ipswich residents as it will improve services for a wide range of effective diseases and cancer diagnosis.
I also raised the reports that NHS England are looking to use Gainsborough Sports Centre in Ipswich as Suffolk’s first site for delivering vaccinations if and when a vaccine is approved. Increased testing and a safe and effective vaccine represent two crucial ways we can beat Covid-19. And it’s important that Ipswich is at the forefront of both issues for Ipswich residents as we hopefully move ever closer to defeating this virus.
I’ll be monitoring the roll out of any vaccine and increased testing in Ipswich exceptionally closely over the coming weeks and months, raising them at the highest levels and supporting our local NHS. And I’ll be looking very closely at everything the Prime Minister has said today about the restrictions after the end of the national lockdown and what they mean for Ipswich.
Highways England have completed their safety validation work so we at least now know that at some point soon we will touch wood be turning our back on frequent closures of the Orwell Bridge. However I remain dissatisfied with how long this has all taken and I will continue to push for the new measures to be implemented as soon as possible. Following pressure that has been applied it now seems likely that Highways England may be working to deliver the changes ahead of the end of March deadline they set themselves a few weeks ago.
I was promised in January that they would deliver the changes at the start of winter not the end. Next week I will be meeting with the Roads Minister to discuss the timeline for delivery. I will provide more updates soon.
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.
Raised Ipswich BMX Club at Landseer Park directly in the Chamber today and their campaign to raise money for a new track. The club does vital work giving young people in the local area a positive hobby but the track is deteriorating and they’re currently around £60,000 short of the amount needed to resurface it. That’s why I called on the Minister to work with me and the club to leave no stone unturned in finding this extra funding.
In response to me, the Minister mentioned funding from British Cycling and I’ve written to them to ask if they’ll consider upping the amount they’ve indicated they will contribute to the project and to meet with me to discuss it. This meeting is now in my diary for next week with Tracey Reeve who’s leading on this project with club.
I’m also having conversations about whether a small amount of the £25 million secured for Ipswich from the Government’s Towns Fund can help make the new track a reality.
The BMX club is a huge community asset in Gainsborough which has been identified as an area of deprivation. In my letters to Ministers about the new track before, I’ve made the case that this investment would be repaid many times over in the benefits it brings the community. You really can’t put a price on keeping youngsters away from negative influences and giving them positive role models which the club does. I’ll keep exploring every avenue to ensure the club can go from strength to strength with this new track.
The Sports Minister also announced a £300 million support package today to protect the sports sector over the winter, and I’ll be looking very closely at how we can benefit from this in Ipswich.