Though the evacuation from Kabul has ended, work to assist both those who managed to get out of Afghanistan and those who didn't continues. I am calling on the Government to work as quickly and assiduously as possible to ensure safe passage for all of those eligible to come to the UK who wish to leave Afghanistan.
I was pleased to see both of the councils serving my constituency offering to welcome Afghan arrivals to Richmond and Kingston. Beyond the debt we owe to those who worked for us, and to dual-nationality British citizens, I am deeply concerned about those who are likely to suffer under Taliban rule, especially Afghanistan's women and girls. I will be pressing the Government to offer assistance to as many of those who ask for it as possible.
I was pleased to hear the Home Office confirm this week that people arriving from Afghanistan under the ARAP programme will be given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, rather than only leave to remain for five years. Those eligible for the programme have put themselves in harm's way to assist us in our work in Afghanistan, and we owe them security in their new lives here in return.
I was also pleased that a new Minister for Afghan Resettlement has been created to ensure that arriving Afghans are supported as they rebuild their lives in the UK. It is vital that we give them assistance in settling in and integrating in Britain. I have a number of concerns about how Operation Warm Welcome is going to work, though, which I have detailed in my letter to the new minister, Victoria Atkins, here.
I spoke to Refugee Action Kingston on Wednesday to understand the particular issues facing the new arrivals in our community. They confirmed that the best way people can support this work is to make donations to charities in our area, like Refugee Action and the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association.
BACK TO SCHOOL
I want to send best wishes to all of the children in my constituency returning to school this week and next. While I am pleased to see them taking their places in the classroom again, I will be watching to see what effect the return has on case rates in the area.
Schools have a range of measures in place to manage transmission risk, including testing, ventilation and hygiene. Schools have additional actions they can take if their school has an outbreak, and I am assured that closures will be a last resort only. Unvaccinated children are no longer required to self-isolate if they live in the same household as someone with COVID-19, or are a close contact of someone with COVID-19. Liberal Democrats are calling for schools to have more funding for ventilation and air purifying equipment, as this expensive equipment is out of reach for many schools without extra funding.
Secondary school and sixth form pupils and staff at all schools will be asked to continue with regular testing, and university students are asked to test themselves before traveling to their universities. All 16-and 17-year-olds are also eligible for a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and I strongly encourage all young people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Anyone who can walk, scoot or cycle to school is encouraged to do so. For those who will use the buses, Transport for London has announced that a full bus service is running across London, including the special school bus routes (numbered 600-699.) Buses have been modified to maximise fresh air circulation and capacity has returned to normal levels. They say that customers should take the first available bus and make use of all available seats and space, with standing now permitted.
I want to wish my Jewish constituents who will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah next week a happy and healthy new year. On behalf of myself and your neighbours in Richmond Park, Shana tovah u’metukah!
DOMESTIC ABUSE INITIATIVES
As part of its campaign to fight domestic abuse, Richmond Council has appointed domestic abuse champions in each of its frontline teams. Eleven members of staff have received enhanced training on how to identify and respond to domestic abuse and will be on hand to offer assistance, promote awareness and conversations about abuse and ensure best practice across the department.
Domestic Abuse can take many forms, including physical or sexual violence; threatening or coercive behaviour; and economic or psychological abuse carried out by a partner, ex-partner or family member.
Find out how Richmond Council can help you, including further advice and contact details, information on emergency accommodation, injunctions and more, here.
If you or someone you know needs help you can contact:
999 if you are in immediate danger.
For non-emergencies dial the police on 101.
Richmond Independent Domestic Violence Advocate: 020 8943 8188 (Monday – Friday, 9am-5pm)
National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 (24/7)
Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327 (Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm)
CELEBRATING OUR TWIN TOWNS IN EUROPE
Next Friday, 10 September, at 2:30pm, Richmond Mayor Geoff Acton and I will have the pleasure of unveiling a lovely new information board about Richmond's twin towns of Fontainebleau in France and Konstanz in Germany. The board has been commissioned by the Richmond in Europe Association, and erected outside East Sheen Library on Sheen Lane.
Attendees will be entertained from 1.30p.m. by St. Margaret's Elastic Band performing a programme of French, German and English music on the green outside the Library. Local traders have been invited to adopt a French or German theme for the day. Everyone is invited to attend - French or German costume optional!
COMPENSATION FOR MISSED GARDEN WASTE COLLECTIONS Richmond Council will be giving its garden waste collection customers five free months of the service, as compensation for recent disruptions caused by crew shortages. Subscribers have been contacted directly with further details.
KINGSTON HERITAGE FESTIVAL
Throughout September, local residents are invited to explore Kingston’s heritage in a series of free events, talks, walks and open house days celebrating the borough’s 1100-year history.
A number of Kingston's historic buildings and community hubs will be open for this year's festival. As well as in-person talks and walks on offer, we have also compiled a selection of trails you can do year-round at your own leisure, from urban strolls to longer walks discovering the Royal Borough of Kingston.
Volunteers and heritage staff have also worked hard to bring history to virtual life and to celebrate the diverse cultural heritage of the town, through a range of content you can access online.
For details of the dozens of events and activities on offer go to www.inkingston.co.uk/heritage-festival
DISABILITY AWARENESS EVENT
Kingston residents might like to visit Market Square this Sunday, September 5 to explore a number of stalls from local disability groups, including Mencap, Kingston Centre for Independent Living, and Kingston Association for the Blind. Organisers hope to shine a light on issues and experiences faced by many of Kingston’s disabled residents through their Disability Awareness Day celebration. Read more here.
SOCIAL SPACES PROJECT
Kingston Council is working with Kingston First to deliver the new 'Social Spaces' project, a temporary initiative to create more social spaces for our residents. You can give us your feedback on the new planters and seating spaces here.