Lynne Featherstone MP speaks to local students about lobbying and campaigning

Lynne Featherstone with year ten students from Highgate School To help inspire students to engage in the local community and make a difference through campaigning and lobbying, Lynne Featherstone MP on Friday spoke to year ten at Highgate School.
The Hornsey and Wood Green MP was speaking to the students as part of their citizenship class about the workings of Parliament, lobbying MPs, and what can be achieved through local campaigning. The Liberal Democrat MP gave the students a range of examples of where the local community has come together to effect change, like the successful 603 bus campaign, and the campaign to save the Whittington A&E.
Lynne Featherstone MP comments:
“It’s pretty amazing the way things can be changed when local people come together to fight for a cause. I have seen it over and over again as a local MP.
“It was great to be able to show the young people here today that it can be done, and that as a citizen you have the opportunity to influence politics and the world around us. And they sure are an inquisitive lot, so I guess it’s just a matter of time before they start lobbying me on Government policy!”

Highgate School Summer School

I visited Highgate School summer school this morning. Highgate, which is one of the foremost independent schools in the country, for a long time was relatively segregated from the rest of the community of schools in Haringey. With the arrival of a new head a little while back, Adam Pettitt, that changed hugely. Combining its community responsibility and its academic status – Highgate now runs a summer school for children from other schools in Haringey and Camden from years 10 and 12 – to raise horizons, benefit from top academic input, learn life skills like negotiation, team-working and so on.

So I gave a brief talk to the Year 12 students and Year 10 students – and watched a bit of an English tutorial and a workshop on enterprise. I asked some of the English students how it compared to their school. Interestingly, two of the girls from Haringey 6th form college, said it was fantastic to be able to learn in a learning environment where they didn’t get put down for being interested in studying. Food for thought I thought!

Anyway – delighted to see the continuation of this excellent project- exemplar in  how the wider school community can benefit from what Highgate has to offer.

What does an MP do when they are not in Parliament?

Sometimes people think that being in Parliament was the only part of being an MP. I wish – the job would be much easier if that was all there is to it!

So as an example – this is what Friday was like for me. Started with a few hours of surgery (residents coming to meet me face-to-face to raise issues) – with at least four people bursting into tears. No – not ‘cos I am mean to them – but because I am sympathetic – and so many of those who come to me at surgery have been through so much with nobody listening. And when someone sits you down and says now what’s wrong and how can I help – it is obviously a release. I may not always be able to solve the problem – but I do listen properly. It’s pretty dreadful when the first person who will listen non-judgementally is your MP! And it is very, very emotionally draining.

Next port of call – to see the finished works at Bounds Green station. Cllr John Oakes, my local Lib Dem colleague and councillor for the ward was also in attendance. I went to see the works in progress some while back – hundreds of fluorescent orange jackets deep underground, dozens of different trades busying away at 2am. They have very limited time to work – so literally an anthill of activity.

Today I am met by Mike Challis, who is the General Manager of the Piccadilly line. The station really does look marvellous. And the very beautiful lights at the bottom of the escalators now look splendid in their setting. So much better!

The only flaw was the backing to the posters you stare at inanely whilst you are going up and down the escalators. This area wasn’t renewed (they can’t do everything – too much money) but it was a shame as they detracted a bit from the rest of the work that made the station look so much better.

Lynne Featherstone with Alzheimer's Society, Wood GreenThen back to Wood Green to support the Alzheimer’s Society day of protest about the appalling way those with dementia or caring for those with the dementia are treated compared to other illnesses. It is that they are charged for help with washing, eating and using the toilet. One in three people over 65 are affected. And it could be you!

The cost is heavy. The quality of care often poor. Dementia sufferers are hardest hit by such costs as they need so much care over so many years. And the means test for what help there is penalises those who have saved a little bit for their old age with the threshold at £21,000.

The Government is to launch a consultation in 2009 and what the Alzheimer’s Society is saying is that for dementia they need a funding system that is fair, sustainable, transparent, simple to understand and will deliver good quality care. The solution the Government eventually puts forward must meet the needs of people with dementia – not just the convenience of the Government.

Then on to the FAITH Plant Centre which is in Wolves Lane right on the edge of my constituency boundary with Tottenham. Cllr Richard Wilson, my Lib Dem colleague and spokesperson for Social Services and Health in Haringey, was there too.

Lynne Featherstone at the FAITH garden centre, with protestorsHere they have the most remarkable jungle area, desert area and rain forest area – as well as a garden centre – and also training and work for volunteers with a variety of disabilities.

About 50 volunteers come here to train and work in horticulture. This perfectly fits the bill of helping people to find routes to occupations for those who simply cannot work in the normal way. Additionally – local children come here to experience the different climate areas, to learn about some of the creatures that live in them too.

The problems are thus. This wonderful scheme has been funded through a national charity, Livability, to the tune of roughly £300,000 a year. It will end its funding at the end of August, because they say they can’t afford to continue this any more without support from Haringey Council and others.

This would end all the educational work with primary schools, all the work with adults with learning disabilities and force the place to close unless Haringey Council steps in to find other sources of funding.

The site is owned by Haringey Parks (it’s their old nursery) who give it rent free to the organisation that run it. The (only) funding Haringey Council gives is for the three staff who run the cafe (a council funded project that was moved to the centre when it had to leave its previous location), and they pay for the plants that are grown there for the parks. But Haringey Council do not pay towards the maintenance of the site. In addition to the funding needed to keep the service open, it is in need of investment – it needs £300,000 to replace the electrics very soon.

A lot of volunteers, their families and local users of the centre turned up to tell me how much the centre means to them. To most of the volunteers closure will result in the end of their outside independence. Many of the volunteers will simply be left to vegetate at home if the scheme closes – so it’s battle stations for a really worthwhile cause. Watch this space!

Whoosh back to get to Greig City Academy to meet with the students and staff who tell me what they plan to do as part of the B & Q @One Planet Living Award scheme. Greig has been awarded £2,400 based on a natural pond they have created. They will use it to establish plants and to purchase special tools to construct and maintain the area. Two B & Q staff came for the photo op – and together with four students there are now photos in existence of me and them in wellies in the middle of the pond. It’s not dull – being the MP! Well done Greig and B & Q for the scheme itself.

Lynne Featherstone at Highgate SchoolThen off to to Highgate School for two very good reasons. Meet the science teachers and the four boys who have won the 2008 Top of the Bench competition. Twice before they have got close – but this time they have done it. It is a wonderful tribute to the science teaching at Highgate and to celebrate I have tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament to congratulate them!

But the main event I am at Highgate School for is to launch the Chrysallis Partnership. Basically Highgate School is using its very best skills to advantage all the bright children from other schools in Haringey and Camden. This part is about offering subject-specific teaching to bright pupils and about offering specialist advice and assistance in applying to top universities.

I think this is fantastic. For far too long Highgate School has been regarded as separate from the community of schools in Haringey. What I saw was the beginning of a reaching out and bringing all our schools together to develop and use skills to help all our children. I think there is a passion and a hunger there which will spread benefits widely.

And – as the Head himself said – the ultra bright pupils who are coming from other schools are teaching the Highgate pupils a thing or two themselves. Adam hopes in years to come to extend the scheme so all the schools can offer any specialist skill they may have to pupils from the other schools – not just Highgate. Anyway – too much to put in a blog posting!