Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day, when we remember the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during the Second World War, and also the victims of other genocides. I was pleased to join other members of the community at Richmond Synagogue’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day event (via Zoom) to listen to testimonies of the Holocaust and reflections about its significance. It was particularly poignant to hear from Rahima Mahmut, UK Director of the World Uyhgur Congress, on her own experiences and those of her family, members of the Uyhgur community in China. It was a sobering reminder that genocide is not an historic phenomenon, but very much a present reality.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “Be the light in the darkness” and is an opportunity for us all to think about how we can combat hatred and discrimination in our own daily lives.
A lot of people have written to me asking my view on whether schools should be re-opened, or whether a timeline should be set for their eventual re-opening. I know how extremely difficult the current closures are for many constituents, especially those who are required by their employers to continue working but don’t qualify for a key worker place.
The evidence for the level of risk associated with schools is quite mixed, and different for primaries and secondaries. It is clear that levels of infection within schools tends to match that of the wider community, which suggest that schools are not necessarily high-risk environments in themselves, but that they do play a part in community transmission. It is suggested that the main risk is children transmitting the virus to each other at school and then bringing it home and spreading to other family members. Keeping schools closed, therefore, has a role to play in limiting contacts which we know is so important in keeping infection rates down.
We have seen dramatic falls in infection rates in both Kingston and Richmond in the last few weeks, but rates are still high compared to where they were at the end of the summer. They need to come down further before we can be confident that re-enabling contacts between people will not pose a risk to our health service.
The difference from the summer of course is that we now have the vaccine. I very much hope that the rollout will continue successfully and will make a difference both in case rates and in the number of cases needing hospital treatment. If this is the case, then we can look forward to being able to facilitate contacts again within quite a short period of time. But I think it will take a few weeks more before we can be confident in making decisions about the reopening of schools.
Whatever happens, reopening schools remains an absolute priority and I will continue to press the Government to commit to this at the earliest possible opportunity.
ADVOCATING FOR EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS
I spoke virtually in Parliament yesterday during the debate on employment rights, highlighting the importance of protecting employees from low wages and unfair working practices. I am strongly against the practice of fire-and-rehire, which has been imposed, for example, on my constituents who work for British Airways. I hope that the Government will be using the opportunity presented by Brexit to make British workers the best-protected in the world. You can see most of my speech in the video below or read the transcript here.
HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE PROPOSAL FEASIBILITY STUDY
I welcomed the recent news that London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham (LBHF) has commissioned a feasibility study into the Ritblat temporary bridge proposal, which could re-open access across Hammersmith Bridge within a year.
The design proposes a double-decker crossing that would enable pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles to cross the bridge. Critically, the designers believe it could be operational within a year of a contractor being appointed, far quicker than the estimated time of permanent repairs.
I know that the ongoing stalemate is having a devastating impact on my constituents. Thousands of people have had their livelihoods severely disrupted. I am in support of this proposal and I welcome the feasibility study. The prospect of travel across the river returning within a year would be a huge relief for so many people.
As mentioned in my previous newsletter I am keen to use my platform to advocate for a solution. I’m therefore grateful that the Richmond & Twickenham Times has reported on the feasibility study being commissioned. I hope that by raising awareness of the issue we can ensure that its potential effectiveness is fully understood by as many people as possible, and that those responsible for assessing its viability give it its due consideration.
RSPB BIG GARDEN BIRD WATCH THIS WEEKEND
If you are looking for a new and different Covid-safe activity this weekend, why not take part in the world’s largest wildlife survey - the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch? You can enjoy an hour with nature and discover the wildlife on your doorstep this weekend, while helping RSPB assess how Britain's birds are faring. All you have to do is spend an hour counting the birds you see in your garden or from your balcony or window, then tell RSPB what you saw.
Following reports of lengthy queues outside shops and cafes, Richmond Council is reminding customers to shop safely. Please wear a face covering when queuing outside, shop alone and shop local if you can.
Businesses are also asked to be mindful of the queuing systems outside of their store. If customers aren’t social distancing or are gathering in large groups – please remind them of the guidance. Over the next few days, COVID-marshals will be visiting businesses in key hotspots to remind them of the guidance.
CONSULTATION ON CULTURAL SERVICES IN RICHMOND
Richmond Council is working to develop a ten-year vision and a set of priorities for its cultural services - including arts, parks, sports and libraries. The new vision for culture will help the borough come back from the pandemic stronger, with an innovative and diverse cultural offering to empower and inspire all residents. You can fill out the survey online here. Or you can request a paper copy of the survey by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
BOOTS PHARMACIES IN RICHMOND HELP VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Victims of domestic abuse can access support from ten Boots pharmacies across the borough through the new Ask for ANI (Action Needed Immediately) scheme.
The UK wide scheme allows those at risk or suffering from abuse to discreetly signal for help in a participating pharmacy by asking for ANI -- as in, "Could I speak to Annie?" A trained pharmacy worker will know what ANI means and will be able to offer a private space where they can then talk to the victim to see what further support is needed.
This scheme is in place now and will operate throughout the pandemic. Household isolation and stay at home COVID-19 instructions do not apply if you need to leave your home to escape domestic abuse.
Residents are also reminded of the 24-hour confidential support and advice helpline – the National Domestic Violence Helpline, which can be reached on 0808 2000 247. In an emergency, always call the police on 999.
Makers United is an online hub created to support the local makers and craft tutors who have lost their income from the lack of craft fairs and classes. Their mission is to help local makers develop their businesses by featuring their work, and offering them business advice. Check out some of the amazing talent from the area by visiting their website, www.Makers-United.co.uk
KINGSTON HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY SERVICE, THIS SUNDAY
On Sunday 31 January Kingston will be honouring the victims and survivors of genocide, as embraced by the spirit of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. This year's theme is "Be the light in the darkness." Due to current circumstances, the event will take place entirely online this year.
You are invited to join the event at 2pm on Sunday. Participants are asked to have a candle ready to light at home during the service.
KINGSTON VOLUNTARY ACTION AWARDED GRANT
Kingston Voluntary Action (KVA) has been awarded £100,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund to disperse to groups supporting Kingston residents affected by Covid-19. Grants are now available for local not-for-profit organisations - with the first round of funding aimed at groups with an annual income of up to £250,000.
KVA is especially keen to hear from groups working at the grass roots, small and emerging organisations and those working with Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic, Refugee and LGBTQ+ communities, disabled people and carers in the borough. Grants are from £2,500 to £5,000. Bids for this round need to be in by 12 February - please spread the word. You can apply here.