It’s been another difficult week and I know that with the beautiful weather forecast this Easter weekend staying inside will seem even more frustrating.  Nevertheless, it’s so important we continue to follow the rules on staying home except for essential trips.  This will protect ourselves and our loved ones and help support our NHS to deal with this crisis.   You can remind yourself of the social distancing guidance and read the latest updates about the Government’s response here:  It’s been devastating to see the death toll rise this week and my thoughts are with all the families that have lost loved ones.  I’d also like to extend my best wishes to the Prime Minister for a speedy recovery, along with my Labour colleague, Tony Lloyd, who remains in intensive care.

I was pleased to see the Government announce more support for charitable organisations this week.  Many charities are struggling to deal with the impact of the coronavirus as financial insecurities have caused donations to slow – but they are more needed than ever.  £750 million in funding has been set aside: £360 million will be directly allocated by Government departments, and £370 million to be distributed via grants. Charities are saying this isn’t enough, but at least it’s a start. The Chancellor also announced that the Government would match fund all donations to the BBC’s Big Night In appeal to be aired on the 23 April and begin by contributing £20 million to the National Emergencies Trust appeal. You can read more about this announcement here.

I was also delighted to see the Government u-turn on free school meals for children during the Easter break.  Over 14,000 children in Bristol qualify for free school meals and, for some, this lunch is their only proper meal of the day. Many of these children face going hungry during school holidays, which is why the work of organisations like Feeding Bristol CIO providing children with nutritious meals is so important.  With many children not in school because of coronavirus, the Government introduced a voucher scheme to replace free schools meals, at £3 per day – but then announced the vouchers wouldn’t be given out during the Easter break. Bristol City Council, knowing the hardship many families are suffering right now, wanted to keep up with the vouchers, but struggled to find the money to cover the cost itself.  Following lobbying by the Mayor of Bristol and I, as well as leaders of Leeds and Birmingham councils, the Government has now u-turned and will fund this scheme in full. This will be a lifeline for many families.

Away from Coronavirus, earlier this week we of course saw the announcement of the result of the Labour Leadership election.  As you may know, I was proud to be part of Keir Starmer’s campaign and was delighted to see him elected as our Leader.  I look forward to working with him and his newly appointed Shadow Cabinet to support the Government through this crisis as well as holding them to account for their decisions and actions.  We need a strong, united opposition now, more than ever, and I’m confident that’s what we will be under Keir. I am also delighted to have been asked to join the shadow frontbench in the Transport team, covering Green Transport and aviation.

I know that as the evenings grow longer and the weather improves, it’s even more frustrating to be trapped inside.  But thankfully many organisations are finding creative ways for us to engage with nature even during lockdown. The RSPB have started the #breakfastbirdwatch between 8 and 9 every morning, and are encouraging us to use social media to share the birds we’ve seen from our windows.  You can find more information on identifying the birds you see here.  The National Trust are also encouraging us to look out for the first signs of spring blossom, either in our gardens or out on our daily exercise.  Even in these extraordinary times, it’s reassuring to think that nature is carrying on as usual, and to see the signs of Spring in our gardens, streets and parks, even as we are continuing to practise social distancing.  You can find more information on Blossom Watch here.

If nature isn’t your thing, why not try a virtual tour of some of Bristol’s key cultural highlights – all from the comfort of your own sofa.  You can find ‘tours’ of Banksy’s street art, and Bristols’ galleries and museums here.

I hope you are able to enjoy your Easter weekend.  Despite social distancing measures, my office remains reachable by phone or email, and as ever, please do contact us if we can help on or by phoning 0117 939 9901. Remember – stay home, save lives, and do keep washing your hands!

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