Column: my thoughts on reopening schools

I have been contacted by dozens of concerned parents, carers, teachers and school staff in the last week, all worried following the Government’s announcement on the 24th of May that schools could re-open on June 1st.  I would like to first thank the teachers who have been working tirelessly to provide online support to their pupils as well as in-person lessons to the children of key workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. School staff have been working around the clock to help their students during this difficult time. Last week I wrote to headteachers to find out their views. I heard so many accounts of staff working longer hours and missing holidays to ensure pupils are taken care of and that their educational attainment doesn’t suffer as a consequence of this crisis.   I firmly believe that the decision to widen the opening of schools is one that must be made in collaboration with school staff, teachers’ unions, parents and carers. My office has been in close contact with local schools during this time, helping them with any issues they have faced as a result of these new and challenging circumstances. I have also spoken to representatives of the National Education Union who have outlined what social distancing measures and safety conditions must be in place for schools to be able to re-open, these include testing, social distancing and fewer cases of COVID-19 in our community.   From the outset of the outbreak I have been deeply worried about the impact of school closures on the wellbeing and educational attainment of disadvantaged children. As a former teacher I know the importance of in-person support and regular check-ins. What has become very clear over the course of this outbreak is the impact of nearly a decade of underfunding on our school’s capacity to deliver online teaching and support to pupils. A recent report found that private school pupils are twice as likely to receive online lessons than those at state schools. State schools simply do not have the funds to create online learning platforms and provide their pupils with an electronic device to access them. I recently had a meeting with the Minister for Children and Families to advocate for these children and push for more resources for schools so that they can better support them.  When schools re-open their gates it will not be a return to how things were before. For schools to re-admit pupils social distancing measures and safety conditions must be met. We also need to make sure that disadvantaged and vulnerable children do not miss out as we adjust to new ways of working and educating. These have been very difficult times for our community and I am proud of how we have risen to this unprecedented challenge. It is important that that the concerns of worried parents, carers, teachers unions and school staff are taken into account. We all want schools to return as soon as possible but only when it is safe to do so.

Column: VE Day

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 15th May:Last Friday, our community celebrated 75 years since the end of the Second World War. We remembered the sacrifices of my grandad’s generation who served in WW2. During the two-minutes silence I thought about their bravery and sacrifice.My thoughts go out to former servicemen and women and their families who missed out on VE Day events, many of whom looked forward to reuniting with old friends and taking part in veterans’ parades and street parties. I hope that they were comforted by the knowledge that members of our community were paying tribute to all the heroes of the Second World War from home. I have seen so many wonderful pictures of Stay at Home VE Day street parties, homemade bunting, picnics in front gardens and homes decorated red, white, and blue.Like WW2, the Coronavirus pandemic is a once in a generation event that will forever impact our lives, from changing how we work and shop to our daily commutes. In a similar way to the generation that fought for our country over 75 years ago, we have risen to the challenge of COVID-19.The saying ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ has never been truer. As a community we have rallied together to help vulnerable friends and neighbours. We have clapped from our doorsteps on Thursday evenings to thank the NHS frontline staff, those that work in the social care industry and key workers who are keeping our country running. And, we have gone out of our way to make sure those struggling during these difficult times are safe and fed. I have heard so many stories of kindness and good deeds over the last few weeks, including the story of two local police officers who collected food and other essentials for a family in need. I am very proud to belong to such a generous community.Going forward we must remember the sacrifices of those who are risking their health to look after others, the heart-breaking number of NHS and care workers who have died protecting their patients, and the key workers who are keeping our supermarkets stocked and collecting our bins every day. When this is over their dedication and professionalism during this crisis must be recognised.The WW2 generation will know better than us that trying times pass. In the meantime, we must stay strong, follow Government guidance, and look after one another, even if from afar. My constituency office remains open, albeit with the staff working remotely from home, and we are here to offer help and support to all constituents who need it. If you need assistance please do not hesitate to get in contact, either by leaving a voicemail on 01226 743483 or by email to stephanie.peacock.mp@parliament.uk.

Barnsley Music Hub's 'You Raise Me Up'

It's Thursday, which means at 8pm the whole country will ClapForCarers to thank the key workers and frontline NHS staff who are working tirelessly to fight COVID-19.Until then I suggest you have a listen to Barnsley Music Hub’s You Raise Me Up: https://youtu.be/JfIt4-G3R1AIt's brill.

Bus Worker Support Day

Thank you to all the bus and coach workers who have helped keep our country running during the COVID-19 crisis.Happy Bus Worker Support Day!

Column: support for charities

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 1st May:Our community is full of kind and generous people who are working around the clock to protect our health, deliver vital services and keep the local economy going. From the amazing frontline NHS staff and care workers, who are putting the health of strangers ahead of their own, to the key workers who are collecting our bins, delivering food and keeping our streets safe- there are so many people to be proud of. This pandemic has highlighted how reliant we are on the voluntary and social sectors. Barnsley Food Bank has continued to provide a source of crisis food to people in need and Barnsley Age UK is helping elderly people maintain their dignity by providing tailored support. The domestic abuse charity IDAS has extended its live chat services to help those who are currently facing controlling or abusive behaviour from a partner or family member during the lock-down. The professionalism and dedication of those who work or volunteer within the social sector has been incredible. Whilst demand has increased due to the impact of Covid-19, the capacity for charities to raise funds so they can continue to provide these essential services has fallen. Charities from across the UK are at risk of collapse due to the impact of coronavirus. Many simply do not have the reserves to maintain the support they used to offer as charity shops have had to close and fundraising events have been cancelled. The London Marathon, which I ran last year for BSARCS, has been postponed until October. This single event raises tens of millions of pounds for charities every year. Without the ability to fundraise charities are struggling to stay afloat. They urgently need financial support to get through this crisis. Whilst I welcomed the Government’s announcement of a £750 million package of support for frontline charities this month, it is clear more needs to be done if they are to survive this pandemic. Voluntary organisations are reporting a £4.2 billion shortfall over the next twelve weeks as donations have fallen due to Covid-19. So many people in our community rely on services provided by charitable organisations, from food and medicine deliveries, to advice services. I will keep pushing to get them the financial support they need to continue helping vulnerable people from our area. Anything you can spare during these difficult times, from volunteering your free time with Barnsley Council’s Community Responder Scheme to donating unwanted food to the local food bank will make a big difference. Thank you. My constituency office remains open to help all those who need assistance. Please call  01226 743 483 or email stephanie.peacock.mp@parliament.uk.

The economic impact of coronavirus

Our community has been hit hard by COVID-19.Worrying new research has found Worsbrough to be the 10th most economically at-risk UK town.I will keep fighting to protect the economy of local towns and industries already facing financial hardship.Read more on this here.

Column: domestic abuse support services

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 17th April:The Coronavirus outbreak presents one of the biggest challenges our community has ever faced. Our NHS frontline staff, care and key workers are working around the clock to look after us and keep the country running. To them we will be forever grateful.I’m proud to belong to an area full of caring and generous people. I have heard so many stories of local heroes who have lent a hand to those in need, from delivering groceries to offering companionship through phone calls. When this crisis has ended I am sure we will remember their acts of kindness.Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on so many families. I have in my thoughts those who have already lost loved ones.In these uncertain and difficult times households are under immense pressure. This has caused an unprecedented rise in incidents of domestic abuse.Many domestic abuse victims are now suffering behind closed doors. The National Domestic Abuse helpline has reported a 25% increase in calls and online requests since the lockdown was announced.Please know that if you or someone you know feels at risk of abuse, there is help and support available. This includes police response, online support, helplines and refuges.You are not alone.Physical violence is not the only form of domestic abuse. It can include: coercive control and ‘gaslighting’, economic abuse, verbal abuse, emotional and sexual abuse.If you suspect a neighbour of domestic abuse please report it to the police.If you are worried about a loved one please check in with them regularly. If you can set up a code word to indicate that help is needed and ask if there is anything you can look out for that might indicate that they need help.If you are in danger and unable to talk on the phone dial 999 and cough/tap the handset to respond to the operator. If you call 999 from a mobile, press 55 to Make Yourself Heard- this will transfer your call to the police.Local services, including IDAS (03000110110) and BSARCS (01226320140), are still offering support around the clock to anyone who needs it. Refuges and helplines remain open. IDAS have extended their online Live Chat service, which is now running from 3pm-6pm Monday to Friday. It can be accessed on their website, offers a discrete way for people to get in touch with them using their phones, tablets or desktop computers.I will keep pushing for these services to get the funding they need to help victims and their families get through this crisis. My constituency office remains open, albeit with the staff working remotely from home, and we are here to offer help and support as we navigate through these difficult times. If you need assistance please do not hesitate to get in contact, either by leaving a voicemail on 01226 743483 or by email to stephanie.peacock.mp@parliament.uk.

Grimethorpe Colliery Band virtual concert

I loved the Grimethorpe Colliery Band virtual concert.You can enjoy it here.

Column: the Covid-19 crisis

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 10th April:We’re entering our fourth week of social distancing measures next Monday. Four weeks waving at neighbours from afar and limiting our social interactions. It’s been tough.NHS staff and careworkers are working around the clock to look after us and key workers are doing their best to keep our country running. We have rallied together to help vulnerable neighbours, elderly people and relatives. While we still have a way to go before this is over, I am comforted by the knowledge that I belong to such a kind and generous community. This crisis will pass and we will be reunited with our loved ones.It’s never been more important that we look after ourselves, both physically and mentally. Exercise has been proven to improve chances of beating coronavirus, boosting our immune system and reducing our vulnerability to infection. It also can provide a sense of normality and rhythm to our everyday lives, which have undergone huge disruption in recent weeks.The Covid-19 outbreak has had a big impact on our mental health and wellbeing. It’s causing people to feel anxious, stressed, worried, bored, sad and frustrated. Please know you are not alone. It’s normal to react this way. There are ways we can look after ourselves and those we care about. Keep in contact with your loved ones. Call people, video conference and use social media to stay in touch with people you care about. A burden shared is a burden halved. Talk about your worries with those you trust. Help others. From reaching out to someone who might be lonely to volunteering to help those self-isolating or vulnerable, helping someone else gives a sense of purpose to days that often feel meaningless.The Open University has launched a series of free courses, on topics from psychology to sign language.Self-care can take many forms, from looking after your first potted plant to cooking a good meal. There are so many things we can do to take care of our physical and mental wellbeing.My constituency office remains open to help all those who need assistance. Please call 01226 743 483 or email stephanie.peacock.mp@parliament.ukI will keep fighting to get stranded friends and family home from abroad, to make sure self-employed workers have the support they need to survive this crises and help employees who just missed the deadline to be furloughed obtain financial aid.

Thank you to our local NHS and volunteers

It's been a very difficult week for our community and the future ahead looks uncertain, but we will get through this.We will find ways of coming together whilst staying apart.Thank you to everyone who has helped their neighbours, friends and vulnerable members of our community.