Communities: Charities and Volunteers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:59 pm on 13th February 2019.

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Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 4:59 pm, 13th February 2019

It is a great joy to speak on this subject, to be an MP who has the privilege of visiting charity and voluntary groups whenever I can, and to represent a part of the country where community and voluntary groups are such a rich part of the local fabric of society. Following Mr Reed, I shall enjoy talking up the great work these groups do. The last thing they need is for us politicians to get more involved. We should allow them to get on and do the work that they do, while recognising that the state has the responsibility to create the environment that they need.

As I said, one of the joys of being an MP is to meet and support voluntary groups, which I do as much as I can but particularly at the beginning of the year. Since I was elected, I have been putting on Big Thank You events over a few weekends in January and February. They were inspired by the work of the loneliness commission and the sad loss of our colleague Jo Cox. Getting groups together to share their experiences and what they do is so valuable. I wish briefly to name-check a few groups that I met just a couple of weeks ago, to celebrate what they do and their great offer to my constituency. The events took place in the three main towns in my constituency—Penzance, Helston and St Ives—and are examples of how charities are connecting communities and addressing loneliness and isolation.

First, I hosted an event this year at Helston bowling club. When I met members of the club last year, they were so inspired by the opportunity to work with other charities that they started Saturday morning community bowling. They opened bowling up to the community, and now people can do indoor or short-mat bowling and outdoor bowling. Lots of people turn up—they do not always bowl; they drink tea and coffee and eat cake—and they have seen a large growth in members and numbers, just because they are able to offer some sense of community to people who are otherwise on their own.

I had the great joy of going to an event to meet the group that runs Tea Love and Cake, or TCL, which brings together large numbers of mainly older people. A lovely bunch of lady volunteers go around picking people up, bringing them into a community room in Marazion and entertaining them for the afternoon through various—dare I say—lightweight exercises, along with tea and cake. They came to an event and shared a bit about the incredible work they have done to encourage lonely people.

The St Ives community bus was funded by the Department for Transport, as has been the case for several other community organisations in my constituency. The volunteer drivers from the bus service talked about how they pick people up every day of the week, running them to and fro between different organisations and groups so that they can be part of the community in which they live.

I met some young mums who run a breastfeeding support group for mums who struggle in that area. It is a voluntary group that gets together to help other mums.

The Saturday Gang is a group of volunteers who bring together people with learning disabilities on a Saturday. Again, they have tea, cake and coffee. They help people with learning disabilities with some of the challenges they face.

The National Coastwatch Institution started in my constituency, and I was glad to meet its volunteers. There are huge numbers of well-organised volunteers who spend all the daylight hours, all year round, watching our coastline, keeping people safe and reporting it if people are at risk of getting in trouble. It is an amazing organisation that gives people the opportunity not only to have friendship and community but to do the vital job of keeping the people in the waters along our coastline safe.

Around the time of Parliament Week last year, I had the privilege of going to so many different groups over two or three weeks. The guiding and scouting group came along to the events and talked about their fantastic work to support young minds suffering from a bit of anxiety. That is a fantastic piece of work.

We are doing a really interesting piece of work by bringing together some of the groups I have mentioned to take from supermarkets food that is not out of date—it is perfectly okay—but surplus to requirements. They are processing that food into good, healthy, nutritious meals. The plan is to teach parents how to cook using raw materials, which is a skill that many of us have lost—including, I am afraid, myself. They provide vacuum-packed meals—fantastic, healthy food—that can be warmed through quickly. I do not know of anywhere else in the country that is doing this. They slice and freeze-dry bananas. If Members know anything about bananas, they will know that they do not freeze, but when they thaw these ones, they are exactly as they were when they cut them up. It is pretty impressive and I think they should patent the process.

Age Concern, a fantastic organisation across Cornwall, does a great job of connecting communities and providing some sensible ideas about how we can support older people at home and how we can help them avoid going into hospital. It highlights the fact that the state does not have all the answers—it should never have all the answers. The voluntary community does something that we cannot do, and we should encourage it, support it and give it the freedom to do a great job. I am so proud to be an MP of west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly where many, many people find fulfilment in volunteering, supporting each other and helping some of our most vulnerable people.