Residents will know that one of my key campaigns locally is to support communities by bringing together people of all ages for coffee mornings, knit and natter groups, book clubs, and all sorts of activities that can help to alleviate loneliness and rural isolation.
Some of you will know that my Constituency Office Manager, Hilary Edwards, has been leading on this for me for nearly three years, meeting hundreds of volunteers and visiting dozens of groups. Hilary has sadly now left #TeamLeadsom and moved onto pastures new, and I know that the whole team joins me in wishing her all the best and every success in her next adventure! Thank you Hilary!
One of the last meetings Hilary arranged on my behalf was with the Plunkett Foundation, a charity started nearly 100 years ago in Ireland by Sir Horace Plunkett to promote community co-operatives internationally. Community co-operatives are set up for a range of reasons: in some cases, the main motivation will be to safeguard the only remaining community asset left in their village, or to save a valued service from closure. Otherwise, it may be to establish a new service that meets local needs. The major benefit in all cases is the creation of a community hub, which aims to reduce issues such as social isolation and loneliness.
Now the charity is primarily concerned with community co-operation in the UK and offers support to communities at every stage of setting up and trading. In South Northamptonshire, it has helped vital local rural services in community ownership, for instance, the community shop and Post Office in Sulgrave, which I was pleased to campaign for and support back in 2012. The Foundation has helped set up over five hundred rural community co-operatives nationwide.
As your MP, I am keen to support enterprise in the local community and, given the rural nature of South Northamptonshire, community-led initiatives are likely to become increasingly important in years to come. The Plunkett Foundation can offer practical support should anyone be considering starting a project of this sort.
At this point, I would like to take the opportunity to welcome Maggie Clubley to our team. Maggie has joined us in the last couple of weeks and will be taking over from Hilary as my new Constituency Office Manager. Maggie will continue to lead on my Strengthening Communities initiative so, if there are any groups out there that would like to explore what support the Plunkett Foundation might offer, please do get in touch with me and I will happily introduce you to Maggie. You can also find more information on their website: www.plunkett.co.uk.
All that is left to say is, farewell Hilary, and welcome Maggie!
(Main photo credit: James Rudd Photography)