I would like to take the opportunity to wish all of my constituents a joyful and peaceful Christmas and a happy new year. It is wonderful that, for the first time in three years, we get the opportunity to spend time with family and friends in whatever way we choose, without the constraints imposed by the pandemic and the lockdowns. I have really enjoyed getting out and about in the constituency to fairs, concerts and parties this year and I know that everybody has appreciated this all the more after two years of restrictions.
At this time of year, our thoughts turn to those who are suffering and this year I am thinking most particularly of the people of Ukraine and their continued struggle against Russian aggression. Richmond Park has been among the constituencies that have done the most to contribute to the relief effort – both in terms of offering shelter to those fleeing the war, and financial contributions – and I want to extend a huge thank you to everybody who has provided assistance.
The cost of living crisis is affecting many more in our local community and I would encourage constituents to remember to make contributions to our local foodbanks when they do their Christmas food shop. The recent cold snap has driven up the cost of heating our homes to unaffordable levels for some but I’m pleased to see the steps that both our local councils have taken to provide warm hubs and other assistance.
2022 has not been the return to stability that we expected but I’m proud of the way that our communities have faced and responded to the fresh challenges that the year has brought. The future looks uncertain, with continued instability and economic disruption, but we can draw strength from looking back at everything we have already overcome.
YOUNG CONSTITUENTS VISIT
On Monday, I was pleased to welcome a group of 15 A level politics students from local schools to Parliament. The students went on a guided tour of Parliament, discussed careers options and life after school with my Westminster team, and attended a lively Q&A session with myself and Lord Allan of Hallam. We covered a wide range of topics such as reform of the House of Lords, the likelihood of a General Election and the importance of engaging young people in politics. The students then watched a session of Home Office Oral Questions from the Public Gallery of the House of Commons Chamber, during which I asked a question on local policing.
It was fantastic to meet so many bright and engaged young people and I look forward to welcoming further groups of students to Parliament in the future.
UPDATE ON SOUTHWESTERN RAILWAY DISRUPTION
On Monday, I spoke with representatives from Southwestern Railway (SWR) regarding the loss of all rail service from Mortlake and North Sheen until at least 3 January 2023. SWR explained that the ban on overtime and rest day working instituted as part of RMT and TSSA’s industrial action has meant that the operator does not have the necessary staff to run sections of the line.
One of the primary issues is that there is a limited number of staff available who are trained to move carriages around the depot. They have taken the decision to focus their resources into making sure trains from the Wimbledon train yard can run reliably, while closing the Clapham yard, which serves the Kingston and Hounslow loop lines. Additionally, SWR representatives explained that the potential for severe overcrowding on the limited number of services it is operating means that stopping at many smaller stations would pose a safety risk. This is because fewer people disembark at Mortlake and North Sheen during rush hour (unlike Richmond or Twickenham) so they can't create space for people to board.
While I understand SWR’s position, this cut will cause significant disruption to households and local businesses across the constituency, and the lack of prior warning from SWR is unacceptable. During my meeting with SWR, I highlighted the importance of these stations to the local community and particularly raised the point that Mortlake is the only wheelchair accessible station in this part of the constituency. I have requested that SWR planners do everything they can to get at least a limited service operating to the affected stations and asked for information on alternative routes to be publicised. Please note that Barnes, Barnes Bridge and Richmond Stations remain open. If you have been affected by these cuts, you can re-plan your journey here, and make a complaint here.
HELP OVER THE HOLIDAYS
Christmas is unfortunately not a happy time of year for everyone. Many people will still face illness, financial difficulties and mental health challenges during this time. I have gathered some resources below to assist any constituents who may need help over the holiday period:
MEDICAL EMERGENCIES: Call 111 or visit: 111.nhs.uk for urgent medical help if the condition is not life threatening. Call 999 for life-threatening emergencies.
HOMELESSNESS: If you notice someone rough sleeping, please report on Streetlink to get help to them
NATIONAL DOMESTIC ABUSE HELPLINE: Free 24-hour helpline for women who have experienced domestic abuse and violence. Also offers help to find refuge accommodation. Call 0808 2000 247 or go to nationaldahelpline.org.uk
MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS LINE: St Georges's Mental Heath Trust has a mental heath crisis line open throughout the festive period offering mental health support and advice to people in south west London. If you live in Kingston, Merton, Richmond, Sutton or Wandsworth, you can call the 24/7 Mental Health Crisis Line on 0800 028 8000
MENTAL HEALTH CHARITIES
SAMARITANS: Samaritans are open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. Call 116 123 or click here. THE SILVER LINE: Provides support, information, friendship and advice for older people (over 55) who may feel lonely or isolated. Call 0800 4 70 80 90 or visit thesilverline.org.uk
STAND ALONE: Charity supporting adults who are estranged from (not in contact with) their family. Standalone's guide to the Christmas period can be found here.
PAPYRUS: a confidential support and advice service for children and young people under 35 years old who are thinking about suicide (or their loved ones.) Call: 0800 068 4141 or text: 07860 039 967
MIND: Mental health charity offering a variety of local support service for free.