MPs are now on recess and so my day began in the office at Swallow House, Theaklen Drive discussing the plans ahead with my team and catching up on emails. We had three visits planned, so quite a full day.
I was asked, along with Huw Merriman, my friend and hard-working neighbouring MP, to join the students taking part in the National Citizen Service Catch22 Programme at East Sussex College to watch their fantastic presentations on community involvement. Huw and I, along with a local business representative, an official from HMRC and a representative from NCS, acted as the judging panel – a Dragons Den-type format where teams of students showcased their community projects (they had all chosen to raise funds for charities). They presented their projects - what the aims were, risk assessments and so on. I was impressed by the thought given to the charities they had chosen to fundraise for, and to the events they were organising from sponsored walks, face painting and game streaming, to throwing wet sponges at people in stocks! NCS is specifically designed for 16–17-year-olds to develop their teamwork, communication and leadership skills – helping them to build their confidence and develop a ‘can do’ attitude to achieve their dreams, no matter where they come from and whatever their background. It was clear that all the young people enjoyed their experience and will get a huge amount out of it.
I had to leave a little early in order to get to my next visit, which was with BT Openreach at the telephone exchange near East Sussex College. It was fascinating
to go on a ‘Network Tour’, which included an overview of the telephone exchange. I looked at the current landline copper wiring (which takes up so much space as there is one wire per property), enjoyed the explanation of the transition from the copper to the fibre network, and am now briefed on how network architecture is future proofed. We drove to a couple of field sites on the West Hill to meet telecom engineers building the network who explained how they build it. I was particularly impressed to see that out of 5 engineers, two were women and two were apprentices. The work is intricate – imagine a glass thread covered with a coloured sheath of plastic – so a magnifying glass is a must. The engineers enjoyed their work, and I found the whole visit fascinating.
I was so engrossed with the detail of the visit that we ran a little late for the next one, not helped by having to stop and wait for geese to cross the road in Sedlescombe. This was again a joint visit with Huw Merriman as the business is in his constituency, but the owners are Hastings and Rye constituents. Again, a thoroughly interesting visit to a local company called GreenBlue Urban which essentially developed a system for successful planting of urban trees and rainwater (surface water) attenuation. The story of how this company developed is really satisfying – from a man who started a business mowing lawns to an international company. It helps create sustainable urban landscapes by providing green infrastructure solutions to civil engineers, landscape architects and so on. The company developed a technology, which we saw being manufactured, known as the ArborSystem which gives trees planted in urban environments the best opportunity to not only survive, but thrive.
I am greatly interested in this technology because urban surface water (otherwise known as storm water or rainwater) management is key to reducing the amount of water in storm overflows. This is a complex task which requires a multi-sector coordinated approach to address the root cause of the issue which often can be mitigated further up the water system. If surface water can be separated from sewage water and absorbed back into the environment, it will reduce the volume of rainwater entering the sewer system. Building more storm capacity with new and larger combined sewer overflows is only part of the solution to address future climate scenarios, including increased storm frequency - we need to think about how best nature-based solutions, such as those developed by GreenBlue Urban, can help.
After this visit I had cuppa with a farmer friend to catch up with her news before heading home. The fact that I have local friends in different occupations is a real plus; they keep me rooted and tell me if I am being boring by too much ‘politicking’!