Christmas 2012

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December 2012

HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND A PEACEFUL NEW YEAR!

As it’s the time of year for people to look back on the year just gone, I wanted to take this opportunity to do my own Review of 2012.

Can I start by saying thank you to you for your continuing support throughout the year. It’s been another hard 12 months for many people in Mitcham and Morden, but we have a strong community with many people involved in doing things to help other people, and that makes such a big difference. I was born and have always lived in this area, and am so proud of the people who make it such a great place.

It’s hard to look back on 2012 without mentioning the Olympics and Paralympics, which were such fantastic events. I was especially impressed by the efforts of Games Makers. I’ve met several who live in Mitcham and Morden, and you all did us proud! To mark the Games, I organised a special Olympics Celebration and Community Fayre at Tooting and Mitcham Football Club (click here for the video of the event). It was completely free, and an amazing 4,000 people attended. There was coaching for sports like athletics, football, cricket, rugby and basketball, as well as zumba. People had photos with the Olympic Torch, got Health MOTs and advice on blood pressure, weight and diet, and dozens of community groups offered their services too. It was a brilliant and inspiring day, and I’d like to thank all who that took part, as well as the many local volunteers who made it happen!

Another massive community event I arranged was February’s Heating Advice Day at the Civic Centre in Morden. Each week, many people contact me about the high cost of heating and lighting their homes, so I organised a special event to help people reduce their bills, switch providers, and cut costs through insulation and energy efficiency. Dozens of businesses, charities and voluntary groups gave advice and handed out freebies, including every utility company, uSwitch, Age UK and Merton Council, as well as Consumer Focus, the consumer rights organisation. Over 500 people attended, and most were helped in some way. Again, I couldn’t have done it without the help of dozens of volunteers from our local community. Thank you so much! (click here for photos of the day).
 
Once again, the biggest issue of the year has been the Save St Helier campaign. Together, we are fighting the threat to shut St Helier’s A&E, maternity, ICU, children’s and renal units, as well as 390 in-patient beds – all because our local NHS has to save £370m a year. We have a strong case, and we are making progress. Indeed, the plans are currently on hold. That’s because Surrey’s health bosses are worried that huge debts at Epsom Hospital might mean there is no A&E from Tooting to Guildford. We also have the backing of Councillors from Sutton and Merton. However, the plans are only on hold – they haven’t been rejected completely. I’m particularly worried because of what is going on in SE London, where some NHS Trusts are in financial trouble. There, Government sent in financial administrators who are saying the A&E in Lewisham must close, even though Lewisham is not one of the hospitals with big debts. I’m very worried something similar could happen to us. St Helier’s finances are relatively healthy, but could it suffer because Epsom’s finances aren’t? If you are looking for ways to help the campaign, read this

2012 was the year of the omnishambles, with a range of unusual U-turns and bizarre taxes like the Pasty Tax and the Caravan Tax. During the summer, I even found myself suddenly running a campaign against a Skip Tax. It started when a local business came to tell me that the Government had stuck up the tax for disposing of building waste literally overnight, without any warning. People had hired skips at one price, but the skip hire companies could no longer afford to empty them. Thousands of skips, full of rubble, were lying on the streets, too expensive to empty, and hundreds of waste removal firms across the country were about to go bust. So for several weeks, I helped organise a group of skip firms trying to persuade the Government to back down. Common sense prevailed in the end (The Sun said the Government was In Deep Rubble!), but it was a terrible time for all those involved.

Campaigning together as a community can make a big difference. For instance, in 2012 we’ve seen good progress on a couple of community campaigns.

First, thank you to everyone who supported the campaign to get the police to tackle anti-social drinking in Mitcham. This has long been a concern locally, and thanks to your involvement we now have a new Controlled Drinking Zone. Click here for details. More than 600 local people responded to my survey asking if you supported the scheme, and all but a handful of people agreed. Particular thanks should go to Edith Macauley, the Cabinet Member for Community Safety, who pushed the policy through.

It’s been a big year for Edith, who as well as being a Councillor is also a magistrate and was the first black woman to be Mayor of Merton – earlier this year she received an MBE from the Queen for services to our local community. Well done Edith!

Secondly, 2012 has seen progress on improving the ugly black 17-storey Colliers Wood Tower. The horrible car park has been demolished, and work is now finally under way inside the Tower to build the flats that were first promised back in 2003. We will also get a small sum of money to make the area by the tube station look a bit nicer. It’s been a very long saga, and the owners have not treated the people of Colliers Wood well. However, thanks to the determination of local Councillors, we’re getting there. Most importantly, the owners will have to re-clad the whole building (see page 4 here for an impression of how it will look). Colliers Wood is already much better looking after Holiday Inn’s extension, and I hope it’s not long before we have a town centre to be proud of.

Elsewhere, we’ve worked hard as a community throughout 2012 to tackle some of the issues that led to the riots of 2011. For instance, I’ve been helping Merton’s new Police Commander, Darren Williams, develop projects designed to give young people at risk of getting into trouble something better to do with their time. Together with The Hub at Tooting and Mitcham Football Club, we have obtained funding to run a new Boxing Club. Anyone watching the Olympics will have seen how sports like boxing can instill discipline at the same time as offering sporting challenge, and I know it will appeal to many of our young people who might have been tempted to get involved in a gang. Thank yous are due in particular to Darren and to Steve Adkins at The Hub.

I’m blessed to be an MP for such a great area. There are too many wonderful people to list them all. But I’d like to praise all the community organisations and voluntary groups that work so hard delivering local services. These are tough times and budgets are more stretched than ever, but I see the difference your efforts make to my constituents, and I’m so grateful. I should mention one timely example of the fantastic work of local community groups, in case it is of interest to your service users. Christmas can be a difficult time for some, so Churches Together in Mitcham offer a full 3-course home cooked Christmas Dinner, as well as some fun and good company, for those who are alone on Christmas Day. This year’s festivities start at 11am on Christmas Day, with food from 1pm, at the Mitcham Parish Centre on Church Path. Anyone interested in going can book a place by contacting the organiser, Councillor Judy Saunders. Get in touch with her now to avoid disappointment!

Finally, please excuse me mentioning politics, but I want to end on an optimistic note as that’s how 2012 ended thanks to the re-election of President Obama. We live in an interconnected world, and what happens in the US has a big impact here in the UK. It was really important he won, and I’m proud to say I took a group of over 30 friends and Labour Party members from Mitcham and Morden to Cuyahoga County in Cleveland, Ohio to volunteer for a week on the Obama Campaign (we all paid for the whole trip ourselves). It was the experience of a lifetime and we all learnt a lot that will help us back home. Despite some people’s prejudices about America, we actually saw at first hand what a great country it is.

For most Americans, the American dream is about aspiration and community, or as President Obama put it in his brilliant victory speech "The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That's what makes America great." These are values I see every day here in Mitcham and Morden, especially at this time of year. So, on that inspiring and uplifting note, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! And as always, thank you again for all the help you give me.

Siobhain