Coping with bereavement

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Last Thursday I attended an event to mark 30 years of a wonderful charity called Cruse Bereavement Care. As its name implies, it provides counselling for those facing the death of a loved one. The TV and radio presenter Anne Diamond spoke at the event. It was a fascinating and enthralling talk because she spoke so frankly about her own experience of losing a child to sudden infant death syndrome, or cot death as it is sometimes known. When her four month old son died inexplicably 25 years ago her experience would have been happening to, on average, three other sets of parents on that dreadful day. 2500 babies died each year in Britain. That number dropped dramatically over night following her campaign to encourage babies to be put to sleep on their backs rather than on their stomachs. Using data collated in New Zealand she eventually got the Government of the day here to launch a massive public information campaign. The number of cot deaths has now dropped to just 300 a year. Each of those is, of course, a terrible tragedy for every family but the fact that around 2100 families are not having that experience is such a wonderful legacy of her tragedy.

On Monday I was the starter at the Crafty Craft Race on the canal at Kintbury. This annual event raises funds for good causes and is a wacky, fun-filled event full of English eccentricity. A group of young people had entered three crafts in the race. They were dressed just as outrageously as all the others and were having just as many laughs but one got the sense that there was beneath it all a more serious purpose. They were all friends of James Ballantyne, a lad from Hungerford who was killed last year in a car accident. His friends have set up a fund to support and encourage young engineers like James. The James Ballantyne Memorial Fund is way for people to channel their grief so some positives can be gained from tragedy. Their story, like Anne Diamond’s, was one which can never fill the hole in their lives but is still an example of triumph coming out of adversity.

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Green reasons to stay in

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Co-signed by myself and others with a track record of standing up for the environment, this letter was published in the Spectator on 28th April:

Sir, As Conservatives we are clear that the European Union has been central to improving the quality of the UK’s environment. European policy is not always perfect, but on environmental issues it has allowed us to move forward in leaps and bounds.

The wealth of the environment on which our economy depends is not confined to national boundaries, which is why the EU has become such a vital forum for negotiating Britain’s interests in maintaining healthy seas, clean air, climate security and species protection.

It is largely thanks to European agreements that we now have sewage-free beaches in Britain. Because of tough European vehicle standards British car drivers spend less on fuel. And it is because of European legislation that some of the UK’s rarest birds have started to recover after decades of decline.

There will be many arguments in the coming weeks on the merits for and against staying in the EU but, for environmental sustainability, Brexit is likely to damage our interests.

We would lose influence over the environmental impact of neighbouring countries, whose behaviour affects the migration of our wildlife, the pollution of our air and the health of our seas. It could weaken our efforts to tackle climate change and undercut existing UK environmental protections, since there is no guarantee that the high standards we have negotiated within Europe will remain in place in Britain.

We are clear that the way to create a better environment for UK citizens is to strengthen environmental action through European co-operation, not by leaving the EU.

Yours sincerely

The Rt Hon Lord Barker of Battle, former Climate Change Minister

Richard Benyon MP, former Environment Minister

The Rt Hon Charles Hendry, former Energy Minister

The Rt Hon. the Lord Heseltine CH, former Secretary of State for Environment

The Rt Hon John Gummer, Lord Deben, former Secretary of State for Environment

Stanley Johnson, former Conservative MEP

The Rt Hon. the Lord Patten of Barnes CH, former Secretary of State for Environment

Laura Sandys, former member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee

Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, former Secretary of State for Environment

Rt Hon Tim Yeo, former Environment Minister

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The Queen at 90

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Celebrations have happened across West Berkshire and all around Britain to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday. In Parliament we had a debate to allow MPs to pay tribute to our longest serving and much loved monarch. Tributes came not only from devout royalists like the Prime Minister but also from equally devout republicans like Jeremy Corbyn. All found the words to praise a lifetime’s commitment to service and duty.

For me one of the most moving came from Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames. He described a dinner in 1955 for the young Queen at No 10 Downing Street on the eve of Churchill’s resignation as Prime Minister. It was agreed between the private offices that there would be no speeches, but the Queen, greatly moved by the impending retirement of her first Prime Minister, whom she had known since she was a very small child, rose in her place and lifted her glass with a toast to “My Prime Minister”. And Churchill, a very old man, completely unprepared, pulled himself to his feet, and said,

“Madam, I propose a toast to your Majesty which I used to enjoy drinking as a subaltern officer in the 4th Hussars at Bangalore in India in the reign of your Majesty’s great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. I drink to the wise and kindly way of life, of which your Majesty is the young and gleaming champion.”

For an old man recovering from a serious stroke, such words are beautiful in their simplicity. Wisdom and kindness are two virtues very apparent in our Queen today and much needed in the wider world.

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An extraordinary legacy

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Thirty-three years ago a young man called John Simonds was killed when his pick-up overturned while he was working on a Berkshire sheep farm. I was lucky enough to know John in his short life. Out of his tragic death his parents built an extraordinary legacy by creating the John Simonds Trust. Located at Rushall Farm in the heart of the Pang Valley, the Trust brings young people into the countryside. On this working organic farm they learn self-confidence and leadership. They get a greater understanding about how their food is produced. Through inspirational teaching they benefit from a wide array of curriculum subjects all taught in the open air or in the historic thatched barn.

Last week I and my fellow trustees were joined by the Lord Lieutenant, the High Sheriff, the Bishop of Reading and many more of the county’s great and good, to pay tribute to John’s father, David, who is retiring as Chairman of the Trust. It was a chance to reflect on the success of an organisation that has done immeasurable good for over three decades. There are now children who visit Rushall Farm and have the same life-changing experience there as their parents did. We heard from a head teacher of the value of visits to the farm and what it does for some children who rarely, if ever, get the chance to visit the countryside. One teacher told me of a boy in her class who had consistently underachieved at school. His home life was a mess and he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. On the visit to Rushall Farm he emerged from his sullen detachment to those around him. He found that there were things he could do that no one else in the class could. She described how he returned home with “shining eyes” and able to cope a little better with school and home life as a result of the encouragement he got from the John Simonds Trust team.

There is not much more that one can add to a story like that. David Simonds and his late wife Sue can be absolutely certain that out of their tragedy they have brought incalculable good to others.

To find out more go to

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Lambourn Open Day

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Early spring sunshine and the promise of seeing both four and two legged sporting heroes brought a record crowd to the Lambourn Open Day on Good Friday. The horse racing industry is a big employer and a major part of the economy of West Berkshire. Newbury Racecourse is one of the premier courses in the country and the Lambourn Valley is one of the best known training centres. The Open Day is a chance to get close to some of the stars of the track and those who ride them. It is an event full of entertainment for all ages. It is also an opportunity for the racing community to show itself to a wider public but more importantly to raise money for the Lambourn Valley Housing Trust. This provides around 80 affordable houses and flats for stable staff and helps provide new facilities in the village. It also makes a significant donation each year to the local school.

In Parliament there has been a fair amount of discussion about racing with much talk of improving the levy paid to the industry by bookmakers. But with much of the gaming industry now offshore and online there has been a recognition that if the sport is to survive a new deal has to be struck. So it was with some relief that it was announced in March that a new funding arrangement for British racing applying to all betting operators, would be introduced by April 2017. This will at last see a level playing field for British-based and offshore gambling operators, and will ensure a fair return for racing from all bookmakers, including those based offshore. The racing industry will be responsible for making decisions on the spending of the new fund. Racing and bookmakers had been at loggerheads but this deal has been welcomed by both the British Horse Racing Authority and the Association of British Bookmakers. This means that courses like Newbury will have more money to invest and help with the ever increasing costs of putting on a day’s racing. It means more owners will be attracted by bigger prize money to invest in training yards in Lambourn. This will filter down to other trades and employment prospects in the area.

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Westminster diary

On Monday I attended the All Party Group on Park Homes. I have hundreds of constituents who choose to live in Park Homes and many of them do so with a good relationship with the Park owner. Sadly, some do not. Much has been done in recent years to make law tougher on rogue Park owners but there are still changes I want to see...

Backing business

Anyone who has been in business knows all too well the risks and uncertainties that come with it. Running a business, or working for yourself, often means taking a chance and putting your family’s livelihood on the line. That is why it is vital that we as politicians do all we can to support those entrepreneurs who do take a risk. From farmers to florists to financial services, investment in our public services is underpinned by the growth and prosperity of our industries...

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Richard Benyon was re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Newbury on 7 May 2015, with an increased majority of 26,368. Richard won 61 per cent of the vote share.



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