Backbench Business - Christmas AdjournmentBackbench Business

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 16th December 2021.

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Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 2:14 pm, 16th December 2021

It is a pleasure to follow Bob Stewart. He made such a considered speech, and I did enjoy listening to it. May I also take a moment to reflect on the speech from Mr Mitchell on the tragic circumstances of the death of Louis Watkiss—and my condolences to the family? I hope we will all support the efforts being made by the right hon. Member.

This Christmas will be difficult for many families. It could be the first Christmas without loved ones, and people may have lost their jobs or simply be struggling due to the worsening cost of living crisis. I want to take this opportunity to talk about how local charities in Luton and all their committed volunteers have stepped up over the last year. They have stepped in to address Government failures and have supported many people’s lives in Luton South.

Level Trust has helped families overcome the costs of education, ensuring that children in Luton have the chance to enjoy learning, by running the clothing exchange, delivering home learning packs and managing the emergency home school fund. Level Trust has also helped to set up Luton Learning Link, a partnership with the Luton Council of Mosques and the high sheriff of Bedfordshire, to provide computers to children to tackle the digital divide.

Discover Islam also works with Level Trust, but among its other great community initiatives it has set up the Curry Kitchen, in partnership with Community Interest Luton, to provide hot food to Luton residents in need. It was great to see so many Lutonians join the Luton Lions to run the Luton 10K, including my hon. Friend Sarah Owen, to raise vital funds for the Curry Kitchen.

As one of the volunteers at Luton food bank, it is right for me to mention the great work it does in providing free nutritionally balanced and culturally appropriate food parcels to people in distress or financial hardship, including hot meals for families on Christmas eve next week.

NOAH has provided support to the homeless people in our community through offering food, clothing, medical and dental care, outreach support and specific advice on accessing accommodation and income support, as well as skills and employment training. Signposts in Luton delivers temporary accommodation for people who are homeless and provides psychological support to those for whom it provides a roof.

The Luton Homeless Partnership represents over 20 local services, including Mary Seacole Housing Association, Luton Council, the Luton business improvement district, ELFT—the East London NHS Foundation Trust—and the University of Bedfordshire. It has set up the Big Change initiative, which asks Lutonians to donate some spare time, items or some spare money to help people experiencing homelessness, including through contactless touchpoints in Luton town centre.

Women’s Aid in Luton, which is part of that group, supports women and child victims of domestic abuse. Its refuge delivers peer support, education and access to legal advice. I would like to take this opportunity to give a mention to Luton rugby club, which has again this year put together a huge number of Christmas shoebox gifts for the women who use Women’s Aid services. Similarly, Stepping Stones supports vulnerable women, as does the Luton All Women’s Centre, which I was very pleased to visit just last week.

Keech hospice delivers free specialist care for adults and children in Luton who have life-limiting and terminal illnesses. Significant funds were raised recently for the hospice through the big trunk trail, where large model elephants were sponsored by local businesses and decorated by many different people—including famous Lutonians such as “The Great British Bake Off” champion Nadiya Hussain and former Turner prize nominee Mark Titchner, before being auctioned off to raise a fantastic amount of funds. For children and young people struggling with their mental health and emotional trauma, CHUMS delivers outstanding accessible support that is tailored to individual needs.

I could go on about so many of the brilliant charities in Luton and the excellent volunteers who support them, but I want to take this opportunity to ask the Minister to pass on to the Leader of the House my request for a debate on the contribution of grassroots charities to our local communities and the importance of increasing Government support to secure their resilience through this very difficult time with the pandemic.

Talking of volunteers, I would really like to take the opportunity to congratulate Dr Waled Mannan from Luton, who is the winner of the BBC sports personality of the year’s unsung hero 2021 award for the east of England region. He has been the lead person in promoting community-based sports and fitness group Revolution, which has motivated hundreds of Lutonians to take up physical activity. Understandably, due to the spread of omicron, the BBC is not having any audience members at its awards event on Sunday, so I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all here today will join me in congratulating Dr Mannan and all the other unsung heroes involved in grassroots sports and physical activities.

Finally, we in Luton were very sad to have lost our friend Lord Bill McKenzie of Luton just recently. He was passionate about our town, Luton, and served it all his life as a local councillor, the leader of the council, a Minister in Government when he was elevated to the Lords, a shadow Minister and a vital member of the parliamentary Labour party. Our thoughts are with Lady Di McKenzie and family, and I hope that we can all take a moment to reflect on his contribution in this place and to us in our home town of Luton. I wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a good new year.