Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Championing volunteering at Westminster

I had the pleasure of welcoming three students from Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham, Rory Bryson, Liam Robinson Meikle and James Scott, to Westminster to hear all about their experiences volunteering whilst taking part in the National Citizen Service. The students joined other young people representing the youth social action charity vInspired and met with charity minister Tracey Crouch to discuss the skills and experiences they gained as volunteers, and how they can get more young people involved in volunteering in their local community. Last year, young people in the North East contributed over 136,000 volunteering hours to local communities through the NCS programme, which is delivered by vInspired in partnership with the National Youth Agency. I am always so impressed with the change the NCS programme makes to the lives and aspirations of students and it was great to welcome Hexham students to Westminster to discuss how to make the scheme even better in the future. The NCS programme is incredibly rewarding and teaches young people essential skills and abilities- if you are 16 or 17, I would definitely encourage you to take part.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018


Tuesday 6th February 2018 is Safer Internet Day, and the UK Safer Internet Centre is encouraging everyone to help create a better and more respectful Internet. Safer Internet Day is celebrated globally each year to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for children and young people. Last year the Safer Internet social media campaign saw 70,000 tweets and 1 million video views, and this year they want to reach even more people. Children, young people, schools, parents, carers, organisations and more can help make this happen by making a pledge to do something positive online this Safer Internet day by using the hashtag #ItStartsWithUs. 

We all have a role to play in ensuring that the Internet is a safe place for children and young people, and you can find out more about how you can get involved here-

Monday, 29 January 2018

Driving success for our local businesses

I am passionate about supporting rural businesses, and I recently enjoyed a visit to Otterburn-based coach business Howard Snaith. I met with owner Howard Snaith, his mother Alison Snaith and Workshop Manager Gary Wilkinson, and during my visit I was shown around the depot, which is home to the business’ head office and fleet of forty coaches. Howard Snaith employs many local people, and it was great to be able to meet some of them as local businesses are at the heart of our community, and it is so important that we help them to thrive.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Thank you for making Christmas magical for local children

This week I received a lovely letter from the Salvation Army, thanking me for the delivery of toys and food they received as part of my annual Christmas Toy Appeal, and I would like to pass on their thanks to every single person who kindly donated toys this Christmas. The Salvation Army informed me that the donation helped to make Christmas magical for 95 families and 200 children aged 0-18 years. I am always amazed by the generosity of constituents in donating toys each year, and I am delighted that together we were able to make Christmas special for so many local children. Let’s aim to help even more children next year!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

My position on Haydon Bridge High School

The problems faced by Haydon Bridge High School are well known and I want to make my position very clear with regards to the current situation and the unsettling position that children and parents face. 

Before I go any further I want to be quite honest – I do not control schools. I am passionate about schools, and education, and getting the best possible educational outcomes for all the children and young people in my constituency, but at the end of the day the decision as to the way forward for Haydon Bridge will not be made by me. 

Having said that I do not run schools, there is still plenty that I can do, and that I have been doing for many, many months. I have met and discussed the School with Haydon Bridge residents, I have written numerous letters – just last week I wrote to the Regional Schools Commissioner and Lord Agnew (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System), and I have liaised closely with Northumberland County Council. Last Friday I had a meeting with Council Leader, Councillor Peter Jackson and I have met Councillor Wayne Daley – Portfolio Holder responsible for Education, on many occasions. I have a visit arranged to meet the Head and sit in on a lesson in the next couple of weeks. 

The situation at Haydon Bridge has been allowed to deteriorate over a number of years under the previous Administration at County Hall, and has now reached the stage where difficult decisions will need to be taken by the new Conservative leadership to ensure that children get the quality of education that they deserve. 

The first stage of a consultation about the future of education in the west of Northumberland generally is now underway, and headteachers, governors, faith representatives, Councillors, the regional schools commissioner and local academy trusts are all involved, with a second stage starting on 5th February, when communities across west Northumberland will have their chance to contribute to the discussions. 

There will never be a consensus of opinion on the best way forward – the only thing that everyone will agree on is that what is important in the end is that every child gets the top quality education that they deserve.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Pledging my commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day

Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day, dedicated to remembering the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution and in the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. The day also marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history. This week I signed the Holocaust Educational Trust's Book of Commitment to pledge my commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honour those who were murdered during the Holocaust, while paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people today.

Thousands of events will be taking place across the country, arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations, to remember the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. You can find out more about how you can mark Holocaust Memorial Day here-

Holocaust Memorial Day is an important opportunity for people around the country to reflect on the tragic events of the Holocaust. It is so important that we remember the victims and pay tribute to the survivors. I encourage you all to show your support for this important day.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

His name'5 Doddie- do what you can to support his fight

Former Newcastle Falcons rugby player Doddie Weir has been raising awareness of Motor Neurone Disease, after announcing that he has been diagnosed with the condition last year. Doddie has started a foundation, My Name’5 Doddie, which is raising funds to aid research into the causes of Motor Neurone Disease and investigate potential cures. Last year Doddie raised over £11,000 for the charity with a charity walk along Hadrian’s Wall, along with a team of walkers involved with the foundation.

Motor Neurone Disease affects the nerves in the brain and spine, gradually weakening the muscles and leading to muscle wastage. It is not known what causes the disease, which is why research is so important. I would encourage you to find out more about Motor Neurone Disease and to support Doddie and the foundation wherever you can. 

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Smiling faces at Otterburn First School

I really enjoyed visiting Otterburn First School last week, where I was delighted to meet Head Teacher Mrs Henderson, along with staff and pupils at the school. I particularly enjoyed being shown the school's new Nursery facilities which are a fantastic asset to the school. My relationships with schools in the constituency are extremely important to me and so I am very grateful for the friendly welcome I was given by all at the school. It is brilliant to see pupils so engaged and enthusiastic about learning phonics and mental maths, and I look forward to visiting again in the future.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Let's celebrate our National Park!

Northumberland National Park has been nominated for National Park of the Year at the 2018 BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards. We all know that Northumberland is one of the most beautiful and scenic places in the country, but now is our chance to make sure the rest of the country knows too. Voting for the awards is open until 5th March, and as well as National Park of the Year, you can vote in a variety of categories ranging from Beach of the Year to Country Pub of the Year. The winners will be announced on 13th March.

You can vote online here-

Or you can send your choices to Awards, BBC Countryfile Magazine, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol, BS1 3BN.

Let's let everyone else know about our beautiful National Park!

Monday, 22 January 2018

Kevin Thompson- Community Hero!

Last week I was delighted to present Kevin Thompson, a greenkeeper at Tynedale golf course, with a Hexham Constituency Community Champion Award. Kevin rescued a dog walker who fell into the River Tyne, pulling him out of the river using a life belt on the riverbank. He then took him back to the clubhouse in his golf buggy to wait for emergency paramedics. Thankfully the man and his two dogs were unharmed and the ambulance was not needed. I was so pleased to meet Kevin, along with County Councillor Trevor Cessford and David Hunt from Northumberland County, and to hear all about his heroics that day. Kevin’s bravery could have saved the life of the dog walker and he is very deserving of this award- he is truly a Community Champion.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Dementia Friendly Hexham- launching tomorrow

Tomorrow (Monday 22nd January, 5.30pm-7pm) is the official launch of Dementia Friendly Hexham by the Tynedale Dementia Action Alliance at Prior's Hall at Hexham Abbey. The event is aimed at shops and businesses, with organisers hoping around 120 businesses will attend, although everyone is welcome. It is hoped that the initiative will make Hexham a more welcoming place for people with memory problems. Part of the project will involve training in how to better meet the needs of customers with dementia, and information packs will be distributed around businesses as part of Monday's event containing 'Working towards becoming Dementia Friendly' stickers for shops and cafes to display to show their support for the initiative. The Adapt cafe in Hexham will also be the location for the regular Hexham 'Memory Cafe'. The project is not just for people with dementia though- anyone with mental health illnesses or loneliness are also encouraged to come along.

There is plenty planned for the coming months as well. On Saturday 3rd March, DFH will be hosting a day-long Stepping into Spring event at Hexham Abbey. The Alzheimer's Society will be there, along with Lloyd's, Barclay's and many more businesses to show what they are doing in Hexham and to make a pledge. The Tynedale Dementia Action Alliance will also be launched, covering the area from Ponteland to Haltwhistle.

I have met with Dementia Friendly Hexham organiser Melvyn Stone many times in the past - pictured below with County Councillor Nick Oliver and I - and I know how passionate everyone involved in the project is about making Hexham a more welcoming place for people with dementia. This is a fantastic initiative dedicated to ensuring that dementia sufferers remain a part of the community, and I wish everyone involved the best of luck with the launch tomorrow and beyond.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Energising the community

E.ON is looking for groups and charities to apply for funding of up to £2000 as part of its Energising Communities Fund. The funding can be used to cover the full or partial cost of energy-related improvements and activities. The fund was launched in 2013 and has since distributed over £140,000 to almost 85 community groups across the country to fund energy-related projects. Heating bills can account for a large part of the running costs for a community group or charity so their need to become energy efficient and save on costs is really important. The Energising Communities Fund aims to assist groups and charities to become more sustainable and to lower these costs.

To be eligible for funding, organisations must submit a request by midnight on Monday 29th January 2018. You can visit to find out more.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Holocaust Memorial Day

27th January is Holocaust Memorial Day, a day to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution and in the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. On Holocaust Memorial Day we honour the survivors of these regimes. The day is particularly significant because 27th January marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. It is so important that we never forget the atrocities of genocides of the past. Thousands of people will come together at activities across the UK on 27th January to remember the past and consider how we can challenge hatred and create a better future. Activities will be taking place all over the country, and you can find out more about how you can mark the day here-

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Heralding the formation of The Pele Trust

I was pleased to be able to celebrate the formation of the Pele Trust with the six participating Head Teachers. The Trust will is made up of Ponteland High School, Ponteland Primary School, Richard Coates CofE School, Darras Hall Primary School, Belsay Primary School and Heddon St Andrew's CofE Primary School. The Pele Trust brings together six good and outstanding schools in the Ponteland area that have chosen to join together to share their experience and expertise with the aim of further improving educational outcomes for young people in the area. I wish everyone involved the very best for the future. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Driving the North forwards

Transport for the North has unveiled new and long-awaited plans to overhaul road and railway transport across the north of England. The plans include creating a new rail network called Northern Powerhouse Rail that will aim to cut journey times, particularly east to west across the North. 1.3 million people will live within an hour's train journey of at least four major northern cities and 39% of businesses will be within a 90-minute train journey of four or more major northern cities, according to the new proposals. The train network will be fully integrated with HS2, and new lines will be built along with upgrades to existing lines. Key improvements will also be made to roads, and the proposals could help create 850,000 jobs and boost the economy by £100bn.

A public consultation on the plans will run until 17th April, and a final version is due to be submitted for ministerial consideration later this year. Modern and efficient transport is vital to drive economic growth in the North, as well as to provide a good quality service for local residents. The government is committed to transforming transport in the North and has already committed £13bn, and I welcome these plans.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Brighten up Winter

Christmas might be over but there is still plenty to smile about thanks to Wylam Winter Tales. The week-long arts festival offers a range of events for all ages which aim to brighten up the darkest time of year. Events include music, art, film, craft, story-telling and local history, and are either free or reasonably priced. The festival was started by musician Gareth Davies-Jones and art therapist Simon Hackett, and last year 1,270 people came along to enjoy the fantastic variety of events on offer. Wylam Parish Council has generously donated £2500 to the festival, and the funding will go towards outreach work at local schools. The festival runs from Friday 26th January- Friday 2nd February- the list of events planned looks absolutely brilliant so I would encourage you to have a look and go along to brighten up your January!