I am writing my thirteenth weekly message to residents throughout Sutton Coldfield from my office in the Royal Town where I have been working this afternoon following a series of socially distanced visits earlier today. We have also had a meeting with Andy Street to discuss ways in which we can help bolster the West Midlands economy as we come out of this dreadful crisis in particular saving jobs and promoting investment.
This morning I caught up with Donald Campbell and the team at Sutton Coldfield Baptist Church to discuss their foodbank which has been such a lifeline for many people over the past few months. The team has been helping some of the most vulnerable in our community, with an increase in the number of families accessing their foodbank facilities since the pandemic began. While their regular church services have altered, I learned that their Sunday service is reaching around 400 people every week online. Thank you to Donald, Michael and Paul for taking the time to meet this morning.
I also popped over to the United Reform Church to speak to David Walton. As well as a foodbank, the team at the church has been offering a food delivery service through Cafe Oasis for those who can't cook or shop for themselves. It was good to have a chat about their work over recent weeks and their church services which they have also been streaming on the internet for their congregation. The team are also preparing for the weeks ahead and looking at the ways in which services might be able to resume once again.
Our churches and other places of worship have provided such an important source of support for many people since the lockdown began in March. I do not underestimate how challenging recent months have been for our faith communities. Our churches did not close in the Black Death in 14th century nor during the Blitz I know it has been a source of unhappiness to many in my constituency that they have not been able to go to their usual place of worship.
The last time churches were closed like this was in the reign of King John in 1208 when Pope Innocent III was engaged in a bitter dispute with the King over who should be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. The Pope responded by placing England under an interdict which was not lifted until 1214. I strongly believe that places of worship should be able to reopen more widely as soon as possible.
As part of the steps to ease the lockdown restrictions, the Government launched a Places of Worship Taskforce to look at how churches and other buildings can reopen and operate safely. As of Saturday 13 June, places of worship are now permitted to open for individual prayer, in line with social distancing guidelines. The Government will continue to work with the taskforce to allow the full reopening of places of worship as soon as the scientific advice allows.
High street shops have been able to reopen their doors since Monday and it was good to see so many businesses open again in our town centre. I would like to thank Sandra and Derrick who’ve worked throughout keeping the Gracechurch Centre clean and tidy.
We need to send out a strong message that Sutton Coldfield is back open for business. Now is the time to support our local businesses and I hope that more of us will pledge to shop locally when we can over the coming weeks.
On Tuesday the Prime Minister announced that the Department for International Development would merge with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Over the last 30 years the Department for International Development has become one of the most respected examples of Global Britain around the world. Set up by Labour but overhauled and reformed under the Conservatives in 2010, it is widely seen as the most effective engine of international development in the world. I believe the merger to be a quite extraordinary mistake. I’ve outlined some of my thoughts on this matter on the Conservative Home website: https://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2020/06/andrew-mitchell-abolishing-dfid-2-the-case-against.html
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