June 2013

Dear friend,

Welcome to my latest newsletter about all that’s going on in Mitcham, Morden and Colliers Wood.

As always, over the last month I’ve met many people across this fantastic community who have shown such dedication to helping others, and this month’s newsletter focuses on just a few of them, from the community groups who are helping people sort out their finances, to the Brownies, and from a local roofer who has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity to the Leader of our local Council, who has just won a top accolade for his hard work. There’s also a quick update on all that’s going on at St Helier, and at one of our most improved local schools.

I hope there’s something here of interest to you, but I hope you won’t mind if I start with a tribute to someone from our community who made a big difference in a short space of time.

RIP Councillor Gam Gurung
I am very sorry to say that last week our community lost one of its most courageous and dedicated community leaders.

Gam Gurung was just 53 years old, but he packed so much into his short time with us. Born in Nepal, Gam joined the British Army’s legendary Gurkhas, where he served more than 16 years, becoming a Sergeant. Even when he left the forces, he still wanted to give something back, and became a teacher at Carshalton College, passing on his building and bricklaying skills to young apprentices. He also became active in the British Nepalese community, and played a big role in the campaign made famous by Joanna Lumley to allow Gurkhas to become British citizens.

After his success with that campaign, Gam decided to become a Councillor, and it wasn’t long before he became the first Gurkha ever to be a Labour Councillor. Always a trailblazer, Gam never forgot where he had come from, and fought constantly to improve the lives of people worse off than himself. In just three years, he helped many local residents, and was a loyal and dedicated supporter of our local community. There is one delightful story of how, when he was out canvassing, he noticed a brick wall that had fallen over, and seeing that the owner was elderly offered to rebuild it himself – which he duly did.

Over the past few months, Gam fought cancer as courageously as he has tackled every other challenge throughout his life, and it has been a privilege to know him. My thoughts are with his friends, his wife and his young family. This is obviously a very difficult time for them, but Gam was a really great guy and will be remembered fondly for all his achievements.

Thank you Brown Owl!
On a lighter note, just over a week ago I was lucky enough to be invited to the 90th anniversary celebrations of the 6th Mitcham (St Barnabas) Brownies. It was lovely to meet everyone, and especially to say goodbye to Brown Owl, Linda Hamilton, who is retiring after 47 years of service – what a brilliant servant to the community she has been!

If you know anyone who is interested in taking over from Linda and becoming the next Brown Owl, please do let me know. They’re a great little group, and I know you will enjoy it hugely – although you don’t have to promise to do it for quite as long as Linda.

Money Matters
These are very worrying times for many of us. Money is tight and it’s hard to know where to get help. So I’m pleased to let you know about a special fun day taking place in Mitcham at the beginning of this month, where you can also get advice or information on money management, training, housing or how the forthcoming benefit changes might affect you.

The Advice and Information Day takes place from 10am to 1pm on Saturday, 6th July at Liberty School on Western Road, and there will be experts on hand from various organisations, including Merton Welfare and Benefits Service, Citizens Advice Bureau, Wandle Housing, Construction Skills Centre, Credit Union, Merton Adult Education, Jeremiah Project, Christians Against Poverty and Training and Apprenticeships Ltd. Just turn up on the day.

There will also be a whole range of activities to keep the children occupied, including face painting, as well as free refreshments and a raffle. You will also be able to find out about sports clubs, community events and even about low cost holiday activities in the borough for your children. All in all, it should be a lot of fun, on top of being an excellent opportunity to get access to the best information available to get your finances in shape. 

Morden School fast improving
It’s less than a year ago that Merton Council gave the green light for Bishopsford High School in Morden to become an Academy. However, in a very short time it’s clear they’ve come on by leaps and bounds. Ofsted recently conducted a review of the school, which has now been renamed Harris Academy Morden, and their report is fantastic! According to Ofsted, who aren’t always complimentary about schools, “students are making better and faster progress than ever before.” In fact, they describe the school’s determination to improve as “relentless”, and the school’s teaching as “improving rapidly”.

Given that the school was in a parlous state just a year ago, I have to say this is one of the most improved school reports I’ve ever seen, so well done to all the students and staff for all your hard work – and good luck to everyone who is taking their exams!

St Helier Hospital – yet another twist to the story...
In case you haven’t seen the news, thanks largely to Merton Council we have just scored a small victory over plans to close services at St Helier Hospital. The threat to close its A&E, Maternity Unit and numerous other services and hospital beds still remains, but we have successfully forced the Government to delay the process yet again. They had wanted to consult the public about the closure plans over the summer holidays, but the Labour Leader of Merton Council, Stephen Alambritis, threatened to go to Judicial Review, and it is now going to be put off until later in the year, as you can read here.

I’ve made a number of speeches and asked a series of questions about St Helier in the House of Commons over the past few weeks.

Thank you to everyone for your continuing support for this campaign. It’s so important that we do all we can to Save St Helier. If the cuts go ahead, we will lose our intensive care unit, our neonatal unit, our children’s services, our renal unit and about half our 390 in-patient beds as well as our A&E and maternity unit. It’s clear that closing units at St Helier will not just be bad news for those of us who rely on it, will also bring our neighbouring hospitals to bursting point.

An honourable man!
At the Queen’s Birthday Honours, I’m very pleased to say that one of our top businesspeople was given an MBE for services to the community and local charities. Paul Strank, who runs Paul Strank Roofing Limited, is an amazing character, and I was delighted to see him at a fundraising event that he’d arranged for Children in Need just last week. Paul and his wife Irene have been tirelessly working in the community for more than 40 years – for example, they were the leading lights of an initiative I was involved in just a year ago to help young people get work experience, and they are a remarkable couple. You can read more about his achievement here.

Volunteering with Christian Care
I’ve also been contacted by Merton Christian Care. They’re another terrific local organisation, and do so much to support local people. There are several ways you can help as a volunteer. For instance, they are looking for people to lead trips for teenagers, like the theatre or ice skating. If you are a good listener, they are looking for people who can befriend people who are isolated or lonely due to old age, trouble getting round, or language difficulties. They are also on the lookout for people prepared to go shopping for people who struggle to get out. In fact there are lots of ways of helping, and you can find out more by visiting their website here.

Congratulations to Merton Council
Finally, some good news about our local Council. It’s not been an easy time for Councils over the past few years. Government funding has been cut by nearly a third, and Merton Council has had to find £70m of savings. But under the new Labour Leader of the Council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, Merton Council has steadily improved, and last week it was announced that Merton is the top Council in the country. Stephen was praised for his strong political leadership and for making savings in a sustainable way in line with ! people’s priorities.

Although Stephen is the first to admit life’s still far from perfect for many people, he’s certainly done an impressive job. For instance, Merton is the only Council in South London to freeze Council Tax for three consecutive years and maintain rebates for low income families. He has also kept all our libraries and children’s centres open, built dozens of new classrooms at fast-improving schools, and launched a new free bulky waste collection service. But he’s constantly looking to improve, so if you’ve got any suggestions for making the Council better, email Stephen at stephen@mmlp.org.uk – I know he’ll be pleased to hear your comments!

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Mitcham and Morden is the best constituency in the country and I am so proud of this community, so if you have any suggestions for events or stories about other local people or groups to go in my next newsletter please email me at siobhain@mmlp.org.uk.

My best wishes,