It’s a much more divided week than before I was a Minister. Basically now – Monday through Thursday is Government/Parliament – and Friday, Saturday Sunday is constituency as a basic rule of thumb.
So yesterday (Friday) as usual I did my advice surgery in Wood Green library in the morning and then a number of engagements.
First off was a visit to Area 51, a relatively new Learning Difficulties Service which has just moved to new premises next to the Chocolate Factory in Wood Green. Nicki Quarterman (who started it with George Chrysostomou) – showed me around the most fantastic spaces (old warehouse converted) where young people with complex – really really complex needs – were doing art, computers, cleaning and so on. It’s a kind of university for this very very vulnerable group, for whom generally facilities once leaving school are very limited and unchanging.
Here, in what Nicki described as a second window of opportunity to develop their skills, these young people are able to develop. It is a real challenge to provide for young people and adults with severe or profound learning difficulties in a mainstream environment because of the high level of resourcing required compared to other areas. Here there is the specialist training actually needed. For example – several of the young people eat through tubes. You can’t have the specialised individuals needed in every further education establishment or give the same degree of supervision and care.
Anyway – it was a real pleasure to meet such a dedicated and committed team of people.
Funnily enough – I also visited Treehouse (our exemplar autism foundation) in Muswell Hill a bit later – to meet the relatively new Chief Executive, Jolanta Lasota. Area 51 had just that morning made contact about some possible link ups. As well as meeting the new CEO – there were a number of pressing concerns about how things will work under the new-coalition government. It wasn’t just about funding per se – but a concern that without protection to the funding for their services – local authorities might not continue to fund their placements there in the same way as before. This is all authorities – not talking about Haringey in particular.
I will raise the issue with the Government – but ultimately giving power back to local areas and removing ring-fencing is to enable local areas to make those decisions locally. I trust that all local authorities given back power – will use it wisely and will of their own volition ensure that those providers for the most vulnerable are able to continue to provide such vital services.
The last stop of the day was to be one of the judges at Mecca Bingo in Wood Green. They had a ‘Mecca’s Got Talent’ contest (yes – obviously based on Britain’s Got Talent -who they sponsor). It was clear from the judging that I was the Simon Cowell one (I would have liked to have been Amanda – but am just not that nice). I did mention that one of the very brave contestants was a bit ‘pitchy’. In the end – a very talented and engaging young singer, Aisha, was our winner – who performed a song she had actually made up. It was only the second time she had ever sung in public.
So – it was a yes from me!