Westminster is now in recess, but my diary is as full as ever, with daily visits to local charities, community groups and kids summer activities. I’m also using my time in Blaydon constituency to visit our brilliant independent businesses, new and long-standing, to see how they are getting on in these difficult times.
Last week I joined local councillors Chris Buckley and Alex and Freda Geddes to congratulate the staff at Stargate Chippy, who have fed so many of our older and vulnerable people, working with Ryton Health Hub to provide fish and chips to local residents.
I would also like to recognise Winlaton’s Hilton and Son Butchers, who are just one example of a local business that has continued to operate throughout lockdown, with queues stretching down the street at times. Like so many of our small, family run shops, they offer a free delivery service to shielding and self-isolating residents, in a real show of community spirit.
I’d like to pay tribute to two of our long-standing business owners. Tamara from Buttercups and Daisies in Crawcrook has been running this wonderful florist for 17 years, with over 25 years experience going into this business. Les, who runs a local greengrocers on Dean Terrace, Ryton, has been there 22 years and is still attracting new customers after all this time.
There are far too many independent businesses to mention, but my visits have really affirmed how these entrepreneurs are often the backbone of our local communities. They often go without credit too, working long, hard hours to make their dreams a reality whilst adding life and colour to our towns. Run by local owners, keeping local people in local jobs and driving the local economy, the more we can support them, the stronger our communities will be in the months and years ahead. The current pandemic serves as a reminder of that.
Following my Kids’ Question Time a few months back, I have continued to call for more support for our young people. Coming out of lockdown it is vital that our young people have access to the support they need, with the last six months being immeasurably tough for them. So, last week I joined Kim McGuinness, our Police and Crime Commissioner, and Councillor Gary Haley, at the opening of the new headquarters of NE Youth, who have relocated to Blaydon after 85 years in the West End of Newcastle.
With schools, colleges and workplaces closed, NE Youth continue to ensure that our young people have the opportunities they deserve. This move demonstrates the commitment of NE Youth to all our communities, including the smaller and more rural villages. I look forward to seeing their engagement with young people in Gateshead grow.
I also paid a visit to the Mount Community Association in Eighton Banks with Mayor Michael Hood, Mayoress Janice Scott and Councillor Sheila Gallagher. For two years the team there have been making exciting plans, clearing the space, digging up muck and raising funds to transform the site into a beautiful community centre, which serves as both an indoor and outdoor venue. It’s surrounded by green space and nods to our heritage, and it couldn’t be a more inspiring place for young people.
I was pleased to attend a number of children’s activities too, armed with an array of fresh fruit from Les’ greengrocersfor the kids. Our community groups and schools, supported by Gateshead Council, are offering a brilliant #BrightentheDay programme, which builds on many years of work across Gateshead to provide much needed food and activities during the summer holidays.
The family activities range from bike rides and nature walks, to healthy cooking ideas and much more. For more information on the activities available for you and your family, visit the council’s website at http://www.gateshead.gov.uk.
We all know volunteers, groups, organisations and businesses who have worked solidly to keep our communities going during the pandemic. It is important that the contributions of local people are recognised, so with this in mind I have launched the Blaydon Angels Awards.
I would like to hear about those unsung heroes, those who just get on with it without making a fuss, but who make a real difference. If you think someone living, working or volunteering within my Parliamentary Constituency of Blaydon should receive an award for their contribution, you can make a nomination on my website http://www.liztwist.co.uk or by telephone on 0191 4142844.
The pandemic has doubtless dealt a hammer blow to our towns and villages, but as Anne Brontë once said, ‘the ties that bind us to life are tougher than you imagine’. I, for one, am proud to say these ties are stronger than ever in Blaydon constituency.
I visited Brightsparks Nursery in Crawcrook last weekend, and was delighted to see all the fantastic work staff there are doing to make it an “Outstanding” rated Nursery.
Unfortunately, maintaining this standard is now going to be very difficult. The Government’s new funding regime has created a major shortfall for many nurseries -Brightsparks included- and staff are very worried about making ends meet.
I am therefore going to be doing what I can to put pressure on the Government to reconsider this appalling decision.
Today I asked the Minister for Children, Young People and Families how nurseries are supposed to remain open when facing such a shortfall under the new funding regime.
After staff at the nursery had told me how difficult they were finding it to make ends meet, I was determined press the Minister on this.
I hope the Minister will now take a thorough look at the costings of the new funding.
This afternoon I chaired a debate on the teaching of RE in schools.
Young people from across the country, including a group from Whickham School in my constituency, have come to Westminster to debate issues around religious literacy.
They have debated the right to withdraw from RE lessons, challenging extremism and whether there is still a place for the study of RE in a modern, secular society.
I’m pleased that MPs have joined us to listen to such an eloquent and stimulating debate.
Thanks to NATRE, RE Today and the RE Council for organising such an informative and challenging session.
Liz visited St Joseph’s Junior School in Birtley this morning as part of Parliament’s Education Service and the North East outreach programme.
Liz said “Thank you to staff and pupils at St Joseph’s Junior School in Birtley this morning for such a warm welcome. There were so many fantastic questions from key stage 2 pupils about being an MP and how Parliament works.”
You can watch and read Liz’s contribution to the Autism Community: Mental Health and Suicide debate below:
“First, I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron)—sorry for my pronunciation—for her thoughtful and comprehensive speech, and for setting out the difficulties that people with autism face. I am tempted to say, “What she said,” but I do not think that does justice to the situation.
I just want to touch on a few points. Earlier this year I met Autistica, a charity that does research into autism. If other hon. Members have not seen its report “Personal tragedies, public crisis”, which looks into why people with autistic spectrum disorders die early—up to 16 years early, as the hon. Lady said—I would encourage them to do so. It makes shocking reading. The key points include the point that autism in itself is not a mental health problem, but that eight out of ten autistic people will face mental health difficulties, such as anxiety and depression. Four out of 10 children with autism have two or more mental health problems. The research also shows that suicide is a leading cause of death among people with autism. Autistic adults without a learning disability are nine times more likely than others to die by suicide, and autistic adults with a learning disability are twice as likely to be die by suicide. Those are shocking figures. Suicide is preventable, and we need to do much more to reduce those figures.
We also need to recognise some of the specific problems people face. As other Members have said, many mental health problems can look different in autistic people. We need to recognise that and make sure that the issue is addressed, and that people have the appropriate treatments and are dealt with properly.”
“Intervention from Barry Sheerman MP for Huddersfield:
My hon. Friend is quoting from an excellent piece of research, but is she aware that the autism commission I chair has conducted a piece of work about the spectrum of obstacles and the difficulty that people with autism face in getting through to the right people in the health service? Those two pieces of research are so powerful.”
“I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I absolutely agree that the two pieces of work go together and can help us to improve services for people with autism spectrum disorders.
As others have said, it is becoming increasingly obvious that some mental health therapies are not right for people with autism and do not work in the same ways that they do for other people, and we need to do more research into those areas.
It can be difficult for autistic people to approach services for support, and we have already heard about the issues with going to a GP surgery. Autistic people and their families are also left fighting the system too often, because information is not shared.
We need to do a number of things. First, as others have said, we need to diagnose autism much earlier so that appropriate interventions may be offered to people with autism and their families. Secondly, we need to record people who have autism on GP records and collect data so that we can identify the issues and develop appropriate services. It is good that, in the Westminster Hall debate in September, the Government committed to gathering data. I hope the Minister can update us on progress on that.
Next, it would be useful to hear from the Minister what progress is being made on developing the autism care pathway proposed in the “Five Year Forward View for Mental Health”, and whether it will address suicide specifically.
There is concern that suicide prevention measures are not well designed for autistic people. I hope that the Minister will look at what needs to be done differently to reach and support autistic people in crisis.
Finally, none of the recent Cross-Government suicide prevention strategies make reference to autism. Given that we now know that the risk of suicide is so high in the autism community, and that there are very different issues to be considered, as we have heard, will the Minister commit to ensuring that the next strategy looks directly at how to help autistic people in crisis?”