It was absolutely wonderful to see children and their families from all over Essex pour into Anglia Ruskin University for the family fun days at the Chelmsford Science Festival last weekend. By the time I got there at lunchtime on Saturday over three and a half thousand families had already arrived. It was buzzing. Children were building bridges and rockets, creating enormous bubbles and sending rockets off to space. The gym had turned into a two huge planetarium domes and nimble fingered families were making model satellites.
Anglia Ruskin University has just been awarded number one in the UK for social mobility. They are passionate about ensuring that everyone has access to learning, skills and opportunities no matter what their background.
I would particularly like to thank all the students who were manning displays and experiments as well as the excellent Chelmsford Science and Engineering Society which had packed a huge atrium full of exciting hands on activities for budding inventors. The Society brings together volunteers who are passionate about science, engineering and technology and runs many superb events. They are looking for a new Chairman so if you think you can help our would like to know more please check out more information here CSES (Chelmsford Science and Engineering Society).
Also, positive news is that the connector bridge between Boreham and Beaulieu is due to open on Monday 30th October. This will make a huge difference to traffic in North East Chelmsford. Do watch out though as the Boreham interchange needs to be closed next weekend to enable changes to road markings and traffic lights.
On a much more sombre note, much of my week has been focused on the deeply worrying situation in Israel and Gaza. The terrible murders, rape and kidnappings of the 7th of October as well as the loss of life and humanitarian situation in Palestine.
I spoke in the House of Commons on Monday. The actions of Hamas on that day re-wrote the definition of evil and Israel, like any nation, does have a duty to defend its people from terrorism. It is right to stand by members of the Jewish community who are facing great fear.
I remember my childhood in Northern Ireland and how frightening it was to be in a school room when a bomb went off across the road.
History reminds us that terrorism is rarely defeated by further terror. It is therefore also right to also be deeply concerned about Palestinian citizens that have been caught in the crossfire and used as human shields. It is important that the international community, including the UK, reminds Israel its duty to stay within International Law. The UK has increased its humanitarian aid to Palestine and in the House of Commons I urged the Prime Minister to try to get that aid to people as quickly as possible.
There have been worrying rises in anti-semitism, islamophobia and other hate crimes. In Chelmsford, I joined members of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities who shared their own life stories and listened and spoke with each other. After Friday prayers, I spent time with representatives of the Chelmsford Muslim Society listening to their concerns and hearing their questions.
In Parliament, this week I have also welcomed reforms to our justice system that means those convicted of rape will have to serve their entire sentence in prison. This is coupled with other reforms to enable those who have committed single lower level crimes may be tagged and serve sentences in the community rather than in prison, this has proved more effective at reducing reoffending than custodial sentences. Our local police service is delivering increased patrols and multiple operations to target hotspots in and around the city centre. This is resulting in more arrests and prosecutions and crime continues to drop.
I also joined members of the Energy Security and Net Zero Select Committee to question the in-coming new chairman of the energy regulator OFGEM. Some energy companies are doing good work to support customers, but I believe more needs to be done so that all companies are held to a high standard.
I also led a debate on the Sustainable Development Goals which aim to tackle the root causes of extreme poverty across the world, thank you to the many Chelmsford residents who have written to me about this. I remain extremely concerned about the ongoing war in Sudan and the ethnic cleansing that is now taking place in that part of the world.
I joined Essex MPs for a meeting with the mental health provider, EPUT to hear about recent progress. Staff numbers have been increased and staff retention has increased. A specialist mental health ambulance is making a difference in many cases and the new walk in 24/7 emergency mental health provision in Basildon has helped over 1,200 people since it opened earlier this year. I have asked if it might be possible to have a similar unit at Broomfield. We also met with Baroness Lampard who is chairing the statutory inquiry into historic deaths at Essex mental health facilities.
On Friday evening I joined members of the Hindu celebrating Durga Puja. This nine day long festival is dedicated to celebrating womenhood. With music, dancing and a sharing of food it was a very uplifting end to the week.