Sunshine and another packed itinerary!
5th July 2021: I had a fascinating meeting at Ironbridge Gorge Museum today. I met with Chairman of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (IGMT) Mark Pemberton, trustee Rupert Kenyon-Slaney and Nick Ralls who is CEO of the Trust.
I also met with Rory Hunter, who is Special Projects Director at Madeley Wood Outdoor Adventure Centre, of which he gave me a tour.
Afterwards we went to Coalbrookdale where they provided an excellent lunch.
Ironbridge Gorge Museum is the most important tourist attraction in Shropshire and a world heritage site. It is imperative that it is promoted to its very best advantage.
It has clearly had a very difficult time over the last 12 months or so with the complex of 11 visitor attractions effectively closed down.
The whole aim is to provide an attraction which appeals to the whole family. They have a membership scheme and want to encourage people to come on a repeat basis, hence they have commissioned Rory Hunter to create a woodland outland adventure centre which will be able to draw families. The whole concept of the outdoor adventure centre mimics the heritage of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum with replicas of many of the facilities.
Tourism will be at the heart of Shropshire’s post-pandemic economic recovery and The Ironbridge Gorge Museums will play a major part.
5 July 2021: I met staff at the Wellington offices of TACT (Telford After Care Team) which helps people with drug, alcohol and mental health issues.
The team of around 40 – made up of mostly volunteers with some paid staff – is doing great work.
TACT was founded in 2012 by Robert Eyers who himself endured 20 years of addiction. During his recovery Robert became aware of the lack of support available in Telford for those like him.
He set up TACT initially on a voluntary basis with a small amount of funding to help run a Recovery Group and a Gardening Group. This gave people in recovery an option to do something new and prevent them from returning to their old lives.
The main aim of TACT is to assist people in recovery from using drugs or alcohol. This is achieved by improving the health and wellbeing of its service users and empowering them to lead productive and fulfilling lives.
In 2016 TACT secured funding to buy Strickland House, providing a permanent base from which it has been able to develop its work.
The charity has become a flagship locally and nationally for recognising and developing the talents of its service users through a range of discovery and recovery programmes. TACT aims to complement and enhance the work of community substance misuse teams by providing access to practical support.
It provides a structured and daily programme of activities and a powerful network of contacts to assist with practical issues such as housing, benefits, health needs and employment opportunities. There is a staged process for developing as a TACT volunteer before working directly with service users. Volunteers have access to continual development through training programmes. TACT Training is a registered training centre with Open College Network West Midlands, to offer training and qualifications.
The continuous development of volunteers aims to increase their readiness for moving on into other voluntary work, paid employment and self-employment through TACT’s development and sponsorship of small business enterprises.
A superb operation which I found truly inspiring.
8th July 2021: I enjoyed a wonderful visit to Bridgnorth, a hugely attractive town that plays a big role in Shropshire’s tourist offering. I was met by Bridgnorth Town Mayor Sarah Barlow, Deputy Mayor Karen Sawbridge and local resident Claire Mathias.
We visited Severn Valley Railway , one of Shropshire’s major visitor attractions with 180,000 customers a year, where we were met by Head of Marketing Lesley Carr.
We also visited the Cliff Railway and chatted to Dr Malvern Tipping, proprietor of this fun attraction which also serves the useful purpose of linking Low Town and High Town.
I also heard about the superb work of community organisations like Love Bridgnorth.
As we move out of lockdown, Bridgnorth will have a big part to play in bringing visitors to our county to help to regenerate the local economy.
10th July 2021: I joined South Shropshire Youth Forum Zoom webinar to hear young people talk about what is important to them and what they need in their area.
An impressive panel of young people – Rumaysa, aged 15, Emily, 16, and Emily Hill, 21 – answered questions from the audience. Hosts were Lizzie Hackney from Hereford Diocese, Becki Bunger from The Bridge Youth Centre in Bridgnorth and Marinke Fontein from South Shropshire Youth Network.
It follows the Network’s recent consultation with young people aged eight to 25 about what facilities they would like to see where they live.
I had the pleasure of addressing the meeting and stressed how important I thought a consultation like this is. We need to listen to our young people – the next generation!
Shropshire Council needs to invest in our young people to ensure that they bond with the county and don’t feel they have to move away to better their lives. We should seek dialogue, look for solutions not problems and barriers.
A video with the results of the consultation is due to be launched in August.
10th July 2021: I was honoured to present awards to volunteer drivers who have helped to make Buildwas Village Meals on Wheels Project such a success.
Started in June 2020, to support elderly and vulnerable residents during the COVID19 pandemic, it delivered a total of 3,600 meals to 31 individuals with 25 volunteer drivers collectively covering 5,000 miles in their own cars. The scheme is reaching its completion as its £20,000 National Lottery Community Fund grant comes to an end.
Shropshire Rural Communities Charity (RCC) and Shropshire Council also provided support.
The project demonstrates the fantastic community spirit in Buildwas.
10th July 2021: A little trip out to Ironbridge reminded me of what a lovely – and historic – county Shropshire is. It is so easy to take the treasures we have on our doorstep for granted. Ironbridge looked beautiful in the sunshine and was buzzing with people which, after the 18 months we’ve had, was wonderful to see.
11th July 2021: My wife Clare and I were guests at the Wenlock Olympian Games, along with Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth triple jump champion Jonathan Edwards CBE.
We were invited to the archery competition, organised by David Anderson and hosted by Bowbrook Archers, at Withington. Clare was a judge along with Jonathan Edwards, who has been president Wenlock Olympian Society (WOS) since 2011.
The Wenlock Games is an annual event of which Shropshire can be truly proud. They date from 1850 and are a forerunner of the modern Olympic Games. Organised by the WOS, they are held each year at venues across Shropshire, centred around Much Wenlock.
The driving force behind founding the Wenlock Olympian Games was Dr William Penny Brookes who was motivated by his work as a doctor and surgeon to encourage physical and mental health. The first Games were held at Much Wenlock racecourse and were a mixture of athletics and traditional country sports such as quoits, football and cricket. Events also included running, hurdles, football and cycling on penny farthings.
In 1861, after work by Dr Brookes and his colleagues, the Shropshire Olympian Games were launched. The first National Olympian Games were held in London in 1866, organised by the National Olympian Association (NOA) which had been co-founded by Dr Brookes in 1865. Baron Pierre de Coubertin visited the Wenlock Olympian Society in 1890 and, inspired by Dr Brookes, established the International Olympic Committee. Dr Brookes was named as an honorary delegate at the 1894 Sorbonne Congress at which the IOC was established, although he was unable to attend due to ill health. The Wenlock Olympian Games continued intermittently after his death in 1895, with significant revivals in 1950 and 1977. The current series has been running since 1977, and has received official recognition from the IOC and the British Olympic Association (BOA), exemplified by visits from the Princess Royal for the BOA in 1990 and Juan Antonio Samaranch for the IOC in 1994.
The mascot for the London 2012 Summer Olympics was named Wenlock.
12th July 2021: People used to do all they could to stay out of Shrewsbury Prison. Now they can’t wait to get in! Since the gaol closed, it has become one of the county’s most popular and unusual tourist attractions. My wife Clare and I were shown around by former prison officer Graham who had 38 years’ service.
He gave a fascinating insight into how the prison ran when fully operational, as well talking about current issues.
In Shrewsbury Prison, the majority of inmates were aged between 21 and 32, and over two-thirds of them had mental health issues of one sort or another.
The common issues were – and remain in prisons in general – drugs, repeat offending and self-harm. Shrewsbury was originally built to house just under 180 prisoners but generally ran at around 350, with the maximum being 450. Slopping out only ended in 1995.
The last man to be hanged in Shrewsbury was a 21-year-old in 1961. Capital punishment was abolished in 1965.
Today, nationally, there are 85,000 prisoners, of whom 10 per cent are ‘lifers’.
Shrewsbury Prison was recently used for a TV series starring Sean Bean called Time, which provided a good income during lockdown.
The tour of Shrewsbury Prison is most worthwhile, not only from a historic standpoint but for a greater understanding of how the prison system works.
16th July 2021: This morning I attended a public awareness day at Shifnal, organised by Climb, a project run by The Children’s Society in partnership with John Campion, West Mercia Police & Crime Commissioner. The aim is to make 10-to-17-year-olds – and their parents – aware of the dangers of exploitation and crime. Drugs are at the forefront of the problem, particularly via ruthless county lines gangs.
At Shifnal, one of the issues is that with a town rail station, young people are easily able to hop on a train to more urban areas like Telford or Wolverhampton, where risks may be greater.
Also, a lot of the grooming/contact is through social media on young people’s phones.
Organisations like Climb are leading the fightback against this exploitation. Through sports and the arts, Climb gives young people a chance to form healthy relationships, discover their passions and be positive about the future.
At the awareness day was Clare Jarvis, Exploitation and Operational Team Lead. The other attendees were Louis Hawker and Nadia Ayub, both of The Children’s Society, who are both at the forefront in the Climb exploitation service. Constable Mandy Cooper is the police lead on the project and other officers were present along with civic leaders.
Climb is a superb project which I should be happy to promote whenever I get the chance.
20th July 2021: I met with Julie Johnson, Head of Shrewsbury Academy, together with Lezley Picton, the Leader of Shropshire Council. Also present was local councillor Kevin Pardy, who represents Sundorne on Shropshire Council.
The Grange School was initially a community school which converted to academy status in 2013 when Sundorne School also converted. Both schools then came under the aegis of Shrewsbury Academies Trust.
The site is in dire need of further investment. Central government is likely to provide some of this, including a new sports hall and Lezley said the Council is also contributing £2million to the refurbishment programme.
Julie Johnson is quite exceptional and has the drive and charisma to make this work.
The Academy is in a more deprived part of Shrewsbury. Julie’s vision is not only to improve the quality of the school but to make it very much more part of the local community.
It was evident from walking around that all the students are polite, cheerful and well-behaved.
Also, all the staff seemed to be completely engaged, notwithstanding the fact that the facilities are relatively modest.
At present there are about 800 pupils. It is testament to Julie’s leadership that this year’s intake is likely to be 50 up on last year’s, rising from 130 to 180.
As part of the grander plan, Sundorne Infant School is set to be subsumed into the wider campus.
There are very limited sports facilities on the campus. Indeed, the tennis courts had to be covered over by temporary timber classrooms.
I’m very keen on trying to show support for young people and Shrewsbury Academy, which is doing so much for children from one of the town’s less affluent areas, deserves to be championed.
20th July 2021: I met with Shelley Instone and Emma Carless to talk about the charity Enable. Encompassing both Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin areas, it aims to help young people from the ages of 15 to 24 to find employment.
Most of the young people involved have some form of mental health issue or disability. Indeed, Enable was initially a mental health charity but now deals with wider disabilities.
There are five key workers in Telford and three in Shropshire. In addition, there are 190 helpers throughout the combined counties.
They aim to place young people in jobs, notwithstanding their disabilities or issues. They deal directly with employers and also help young people to put together a CV and prepare for interviews.
Their strong preference is to try to place their candidates rather than let them succumb to formal interviews.
Enable is funded by both Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin Councils and also has two years remaining of funding from the European Social Fund.
This is a very worthwhile mental health charity and one I should be happy to promote going forward.
21th July 2021: I met Chief Superintendent Stuart Bill, Shrewsbury-based West Mercia Police area commander, this afternoon.
He identified two main issues, county lines drug dealing and domestic abuse.
There are 17 county lines in Shropshire, mainly emanating from Merseyside and the West Midlands. They work in a pyramid with largely hidden organisers in the big cities percolating down to the foot soldiers in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, many of whom are vulnerable children.
Supt Bill says there is significantly more domestic abuse than the general public realises, with children often suffering as much as the abused partner.
Supt Bill wants to increase diversity within the police, with greater representation of ethnicity and sexual orientation. He wants the force to embrace the whole community.
Our police do a wonderful job in very challenging circumstances. Stu Bill started his career as a Special Constable in Shropshire in 1997 and has also worked for West Midlands Police. He is clearly an exceptional and caring policeman and I would like to do everything I can to endorse what he is trying to achieve and to support his serving officers.
22th July 2021: I enjoyed a fascinating tour of RAF Shawbury, the top helicopter flying school in the country.
I was welcomed by Station Commander, Group Captain Philip Wadlow before being shown around the base. Training service General Manager Harry Palmer showed me the superb new Ascent training centre, part of a £1.1 billion MoD investment. It contains four state-of-the-art flight simulators. I enjoyed a virtual flight from Shawbury to the military field at Pickstock and over my home.
There are also highly sophisticated traffic control simulators and a separate virtual control tower, plus a rear gun simulator and winch facility.
There are 161 instructors – 102 military and 59 from Ascent – training 286 students a year.
I met key personnel including Wing Commander Sarah Vamplew, OC (Officer Commanding) Defence College of Air and Space Operations; Wing Commander Alan Jones, OC Base Support Wing, and Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Pearce, Commanding Officer of 9 Regiment, Army Air Corps.
We discussed drone technology and space – how to protect it from colonisation by other countries and debris. There is a great working synergy with NATO and European allies.
There are 1,700 personnel, some in accommodation on the campus at Shawbury, others out in Shrewsbury, Donnington, Tern Hill and Market Drayton.
We talked about the Armed Force Covenant, which plays a powerful role in helping personnel on leaving the forces.
I toured the sports facilities, which are second to none, with an enormous multi-purpose sports hall for indoor football, basketball, badminton and gym work.
The base has a very good welfare centre.
RAF Shawbury works hard on building and maintaining good community relations. The base’s increasing level of sophistication helps this greatly – using high-tech simulators cuts the number of actual training flights, reducing the base’s impact on the local community.
22th July 2021: Clare and I dined at The Bear Inn, Hodnet with Algy and Jane Heber-Percy, of Hodnet Hall, whose family own the 16th century former coaching inn. Tom Heber-Percy has overseen a superb refurbishment and, after being closed since 2019, The Bear has now re-opened under the management of Mel and Martin Board. They are the dynamic couple who have made such a success of The Haughmond, near Shrewsbury, transforming it into a national food destination with a place in the Michelin guide and three AA rosettes.
The transformation at The Bear includes 12 luxury bedrooms and a restaurant, bar and outside area that will serve locally-sourced produce, including from the walled garden at Hodnet Hall.
24th July 2021: I attended a naming ceremony for a fully restored Jet Provost XN582 at Shropshire Aero Club (SAC) at Sleap, near Wem. Bought last summer by SAC members David and Marjorie Somerville, it was re-assembled, serviced and repainted by volunteers from SAC’s 30-strong membership. The idea is to offer taxi rides at the airfield. The jet has been named Spirit of Shropshire and is the first major project of SAC’s recently-formed Vintage Jet Group, symbolising the long association of Shropshire with the RAF and of Sleap with Shawbury. MP Owen Paterson conducted the ceremony, and he, and other guests were given taxi runs down the main runway.
25-31 July 2021: After a hectic three months, I’m taking a week’s leave to recharge the batteries. I’ll be back at the start of August, refreshed and ready to resume doing my level best to promote our wonderful county whenever I can.