Helen calls for more political engagement from minority communities

Maidstone BME forum were delighted to have Helen Grant MP and the Deputy Mayor of Maidstone, Councillor Malcolm Greer together with 200 guests from 20 different countries around the globe, all coming together to enjoy celebrating Maidstone’s diverse borough and the achievements of the forum over the last year.

The event was designed for sharing cultures and traditions; to meet new friends, find out more about the Maidstone BME forum and learn more about services available to new arrivals to the Borough.

Helen Grant MP spoke passionately about the need to embrace and celebrate our diversity and to counter the national 85% increase in hate related crime that has emerged following the Brexit referendum.

Helen said ‘events such as our Maidstone BME Forum multi-cultural celebration on Saturday are precisely what is needed to sustain happy and cohesive communities. It is also vital that people from diverse backgrounds engage with the political process if they are to effect positive change. Registering to vote is a good start, but I would encourage people to stand for election in public office, at all levels”.

Jacqueline Bobb, Maidstone BME Forum facilitator and Service Manager from Involve Kent said “The BME multi-cultural celebration event was truly inspirational. I am so proud of our BME ladies who worked so hard to pull it all together. The event was really owned by the communities themselves and it was a joy to watch the enthusiasm and talent of our local musicians and dancers who proudly showed off their traditions and demonstrated just how diverse and talented our borough has become”.

Unique Maidstone gift shop thrives under new ownership

Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant recently paid a visit to Harpers Gift and Coffee Shop located in the picturesque Market Buildings, Maidstone.

She was invited by new owners Frank Goodhind and Serena Parker who have recently taken over the long-standing independent business. The couple come from diverse backgrounds in the music industry and interior design, with Frank being a composer for many years. Together they have big plans for Harpers and hope to extend their love of artisan breads and cakes to their new coffee shop menu.

Helen Grant with owner Frank Goodhind at Maidstone's Market Buildings
Harper’s Gift Shop, in Market Buildings

Helen chatted to Frank about his plans for the business and her belief in the importance of small businesses. She even purchased one of the many unique greeting cards on offer in the shop for an upcoming family occasion.

Helen said: “I am always glad to be able to show my support for local small businesses. It is fantastic that Frank and Serena have continued to provide a platform for local artists and craftspeople, which Harpers has always been well known for. I wish them the best of luck with their future plans and will continue to support in any way I can”

Frank said: “It’s great to be part of a thriving town centre community, and we’re really excited to be taking Harpers from strength to strength.”

Celebrating England Gold at the Maidstone Hockey Festival

Maidstone Hockey Club - upcoming events
Upcoming events

Former Minister for Sport and Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant returned to the hockey pitch last weekend, 35 years since her last game as a teenager.

Maidstone Hockey Club’s Hockey festival was organised to attract new members and encourage former players back to the sport whilst also celebrating the women’s team GB Hockey gold medal in Rio. Players of all ages turned up throughout the day last Saturday to participate and support the event, culminating in a barbecue at the club house in South Park, on Armstrong Road.

Helen said “I’ve been looking for an excuse to get back into hockey for ages. I really miss my team sports and I used to play hockey at County level in Cumbria. The Maidstone Hockey Festival was just the chance I was looking for. The players and coaches were warm, welcoming and lovely and I hope to become a regular at Maidstone Hockey if my schedule allows”.

Chairman of Maidstone Hockey Club Matt Evans said “Our festival was part of the national ‘I Am Team GB’, ‘Join in’ campaign. Over 140 men, ladies and juniors took part in games throughout the day and attended a coaching session. The event was a resounding success and Maidstone Hockey Club are looking forward to the new season with a raised awareness and support for the game following Team GB’s gold medal in Rio’.

For more information about Maidstone hockey go here; www.maidstonehockey.org

Yalding flood solutions to be announced by the Environment Agency

Helen Grant MP
Helen Grant MP

Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant has been working closely with the Environment Agency, Kent County Council, Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council and Maidstone Borough Council to establish which schemes will provide the most effective and most widespread protection against flooding.

Initial proposals from the Environment Agency (EA) suggested a combination of three flood storage areas (FSAs) might prove the best approach at a cost of £35m. The scheme was to include improvements to the existing Leigh Barrier on the Medway outside Tonbridge, as well as two new FSAs on the rivers Teise and Beult.

Helen said “I was delighted to have helped secure the funding we needed for these schemes from central government with match funding guaranteed by Kent County Council in 2014”.

“I was hugely disappointed to learn that this approach has now been shown to fall seriously short of expectations for the communities in my constituency – particularly Yalding, Laddingford, Hunton and Collier Street”.

“The Environment Agency has told me that detailed computer modelling work indicates that Leigh Barrier improvements will have very limited benefit for the residents of Yalding, Laddingford and Collier Street. Regarding the proposed FSAs on the Beult and Teise they also concluded “it is doubtful that they would offer significant benefit”.

“The EA estimates that for £9 million, 32 properties would be protected on the Beult and 96 properties at a cost of £7 million on the Teise”.

Mrs Grant continued: “The EA has said that alongside the costs, the locations for storage reservoirs wouldn’t hold a huge amount of water before causing problems upstream. As a result, the reservoirs would only come into operation in relatively high flows and a number of properties would already be flooded. An unintended consequence of the scheme could be a false reassurance to residents that they are protected”.

The EA has instead recommended that the most beneficial approach to homes in and around Yalding would be through Property Level Resilience (PLR) applied to individual properties

Mrs Grant added “I am now writing to the government to maximise the funding available for PLR schemes in the Yalding area and encompass as many at-risk properties as possible, as effectively as possible. I am also working with local farmers to see what more can be done using traditional flood management approaches based upon existing drainage infrastructure”.

The EA’s feasibility study has indicated that a significant number of properties in Tonbridge and Hildenborough would be protected by Leigh Barrier improvements and bids for funding are to be progressed accordingly. £11 million is to come from government, £2.5 million from KCC and £0.5 million from TMBC, together with private sector contributions. The scheme is reliant on a bid to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for £4.5million.

It is understood the Environment Agency will be going out to consultation on its plans shortly.

Town Centre pub gets visit from MP after £70,000 refurbishment

Community pub The Stag in Maidstone, Kent, has reopened following a joint investment of £70,000 by multi-operator Chris Dyer and the UK’s leading pub company, Enterprise Inns, attracting a visit from local MP Helen Grant.

Helen Grant MP Chris Dyer Publican, Stuart Vine manager.

The venue, located just off the town’s busy high street, has been closed since February 2016 while a full refurbishment took place to include an updated bar area, new toilets, a contemporary outdoor space and an upgraded kitchen.

Entrepreneur Chris, aged 34, also runs Enterprise sites Bar Chocolate in Maidstone and Command House in Chatham. He said: “Before I took over in March, the pub was in need of some attention and we’ve completely transformed it. We want The Stag to be somewhere people come regularly, enjoy great drinks and great food.

“Even though it’s located in the city centre, we really want to provide a local feel where passers-by become regulars and see us as their go-to pub.”

Historically, The Stag has been a wet-led pub, but since Chris took over in March he has introduced a lunch and evening menu, in addition to a full vegan menu, following customer feedback. The Stag has also become the only pub in Maidstone to serve real cask ales direct from barrels that sit behind the bar in view of the customers. It also offers a comprehensive range of craft beer that complement its new menu.

Chris said: “I was very excited to bring in the barrels for customers to see, this gives them a different kind of experience. It looks really good, and it’s definitely a topic of conversation around the bar!”

Enterprise regional manager Richard Mernagh said: “Chris is a great guy, and has a fantastic business head on his shoulders. I have worked with him for six years during which time he’s opened two other successful Enterprise sites in the area.

“We’re very excited about the transformation, Chris has a great vision for the pub and we look forward to seeing it unfold. The successful renovation is testament to the strong relationship Enterprise has with Chris and I am sure it will continue to grow in the future.”
MP Helen Grant visited the pub on Friday 15th July during an official celebration to mark its reopening. Helen said “I think people visiting Maidstone’s town centre will really enjoy this superbly renovated historic pub. I think The Stag’s new offering as a quality food and specialist ale house will attract a wider level of trade and garner a lot of regular local custom. The ambience is great, the food and ales are delicious and the staff are lovely. I wish the Stag every success”.

Lottery offers £10,000 to local groups

The Big Lottery Fund is calling on local groups to apply for funding to hold events or activities that will bring people together and celebrate what makes their local community special.

Applications for funding opened on 6 July 2016 and further information can be found here www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/celebrateengland

Helen Grant, who used to be the Lotteries Minister, told MWCA: “This is a great opportunity for people in my constituency to celebrate something in our local history, or a local community hero, to mark something important to the community or simply to get to know our neighbours better”.

“After the unwelcome divisions created by the referendum this is a super opportunity to bring people together again”.

New flood insurance for small businesses and newer homes

Following the recent launch of Flood Re for flood risk homeowners there are a number of properties that are currently outside the scope of Flood Re, such as small business premises and properties built after 2009.

The insurance product also offers protection for residential, landlords and commercial properties. Policies cover the excess that an insured has to pay in the event that they suffer flood damage to their property. This allows customers who are imposed high excess levels from their insurer to arrange a separate policy to cover the policy excess (i.e. the amount they would ordinarily have to pay themselves).

Helen Grant MP
Helen Grant MP

Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone and the Weald, told MWCA: “Whilst I am unable to endorse a specific commercial insurance product I am very pleased that excess insurance cover is available to give many more homeowners, commercial property owners and landlords in flood risk areas. This include parts of Maidstone & The Weald such as Yalding, Laddingford, Hunton and Collier Street, as well as Maidstone town centre and further down-river at Allington Marina”.

MP Backs British Farming at NFU Brexit Event in Westminster

Helen Grant MP
Helen Grant MP

Helen Grant, Maidstone and the Weald’s MP, attended a reception in Westminster where the NFU stressed the importance of food security and the need to back British farming following the EU referendum result.

Helen said: “The NFU event in parliament was a great opportunity to talk about the future of farming outside the EU. Farmers in Maidstone & The Weald work incredibly hard to produce high-quality food and manage our beautiful countryside and they need assurances that the UK government will provide them with the support they need to increase their competitiveness, profitability and productivity as we move forward.

“I was very happy to sign the NFU’s post-referendum pledge to Back British Farming and I will do all I can to ensure that we build a domestic agricultural policy which is adapted to our needs, easy to understand and simple to administer.”

The NFU is engaging with Government to ensure a strong basis of support for the farming sector – the bedrock of the UK’s largest manufacturing industry, food and drink, which is worth £108billion. NFU President, Meurig Raymond, said it is important that agriculture is part of the political conversation right from the start of talks on new domestic policies.

Mr Raymond said: “This event was the perfect opportunity to urge MPs across the political spectrum not to let the Government ignore the economic importance of the agricultural sector – we want to see action being taken to ensure farming in this country has a thriving future outside of the EU.

“Food security is not a party-political issue. MPs of all colours should be taking the farming sector very seriously – farmers’ ability to feed the nation, and play a part in feeding the world, depends on it. The impact of Brexit on the farming sector is huge; trade agreements, access to labour, farm support and regulation are all crucial to agriculture’s future. We’re now presented with a blank canvas for a domestic agricultural policy which is an opportunity for parliament to shape a prosperous future for farming in this country.”


 Helen Grant MP addressing a group of 150 students in a Creative Access Parliamentary Masterclass at the House of Commons last week.
Helen Grant MP addressing a group of 150 students in a Creative Access Parliamentary Masterclass at the House of Commons last week.

The Channel 4 Apprenticeship Scheme has just opened for applications for the September 2016 intake and Helen Grant MP is urging constituents to apply, particularly those with disabilities.

Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone & The Weald, was a keynote speaker at a Creative Industries Masterclass last week in the House of Commons where 150 students heard about her personal journey through business and into politics and the interrelationship between politicians and the media.

Helen said ‘Channel 4 are a leader in promoting equality and social mobility and I am a great fan. Their Apprenticeship Scheme is about helping bright people gain experience in the creative industry, work towards an NVQ Level 3 and get paid at the same time. They actively encourage talented people who are looking for an alternative to university regardless of their background.

This year, they are also ring–fencing 50% of places on their Apprenticeship and Work Experience programmes to support people with disabilities to get into the media industry and start to build exciting careers’.

Keeping the Barbie hot is just the tip of the iceberg!

Earlier in July, Helen Grant MP visited the Calor depot at the old station in Cranbrook.

Helen said “Looking after the needs of local businesses is an important part of the role of a local MP and I am always pleased to visit firms to learn of their contribution to the local economy and to help them wherever I can”.

“Cranbrook Calor Gas Centre is well known by local people as a supplier of gas bottles for the Barbie, but few realise its importance as a strategically important major distribution centre for a much wider range of users where a mains gas supply is not available; agricultural businesses, garden centres, building sites, fisheries, road marking services, holiday parks and sports centres to name a few.

Calor are also fundamental in keeping our Airports operational, providing Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) for many of the support vehicles working in all weathers and conditions.

The people at Calor have asked me for some help in progressing some regulatory problems and I will be pursuing these issues with the appropriate ministries.”

Calor Gas in Cranbrook
Helen with Harry Saunders (Distribution Transport Supervisor) Jake Holden (Work Experience Student from Cranbrook School) and Paul Blacklock (Head of Strategy & Corporate Affairs) at the Calor Gas Depot in Cranbrook, Kent