It was the last week of parliamentary recesses and I had agreed to join a small delegation of MPs on a learning mission to Israel and Palestine. I have never visited before and have always felt I should try to understand this part of the world better. We arrived at the gate to the aircraft on Saturday morning as the news was breaking of the unfolding horror of the terrorist attacks. Realising that if we travelled then we would be putting other people at risk trying to care for us, we turned back.
Throughout the week, my thoughts have been with all those who have been killed, those who have been kidnapped and their families. Having grown up in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and ‘80s, I know how terrifying it can be to hear a bomb go off nearby, and how important it is that a country takes action to try to protect its citizens from terrorism. This is why it is vital that we stand by Israel’s right to defend itself. My thoughts are also for the civilians in Palestine, often used as human shields by Hamas, and the humanitarian situation there.
I believe it is extremely important that Israel follows the rules of war and does not target civilians.
In Chelmsford this week, it was wonderful to see so many people come to the Apprenticeship, Jobs and Skills fair at Anglia Ruskin University. This is the fourth time I have worked to arrange this event and over 20 companies and other organisations attended. Five and a half million people have started apprenticeships in the UK since 2010 and over 600 different apprenticeship standards have been introduced. This has given young people many more options of ways to learn skills and start careers.
I spoke to a large number of sixth-formers from different Chelmsford schools, who had decided to attend as well as many others who were looking for new roles. Some told me they found opportunities that they wanted to explore further, others listened carefully to advice on preparing cvs and applying for roles, others were interested to hear about about the voluntary roles that can help build experience. For some, this helped them decide to that they wanted to explore more academic university degrees instead. I hope that this event has helped to show some of the choices available.
I joined a mother and baby group at St Andrews Church in Melbourne for coffee and a long chat. The new mums had come from all across Chelmsford and have all faced mental health issues in the past. Being a new mum can be very hard, but making friends with those in a similar situation and having support can make a big difference. The group are meeting for ten weeks and were brought together by Homestart, a charity that receives funding from local and national government, the National Lottery and other donations.
I visited Columbus School and College in Patching Hall where I met with pupils and staff. Columbus cares for children and young people with acute special educational needs and disabilities. I had last been to the school a couple of years ago, as soon as visitors were allowed after lockdown. The school tries to ensure that every child can flourish, learn and push their barriers. Through voice and sign, so many of the pupils told me they were happy. It was a very moving visit.