Letter from Claire Coutinho – August 2023

I can’t quite believe it’s been a whole year since I launched my Friendship Project. At the start of July I organised a summer party to bring together the community groups, charities and volunteers that work so hard to tackle loneliness in East Surrey.

You might have seen in the news recently that loneliness is worse for your heart than having a poor diet or a lack of exercise, so it was wonderful to see everyone getting to know each other over a cup of tea and a scone. I couldn’t have done it without the kindness and generosity of Peter Chan of Herons Bonsai in Newchapel and the culinary delights of Sheila’s Café in Horley.

We’ve now raised thousands of pounds thanks to the generosity of our donors and we’ll soon be distributing the first of our grants. If you help to run a community group and you’d like to apply for a grant of a few hundred pounds, do get in touch on claire.coutinho.mp@parliament.uk and I’ll send you all the details you need.

The summer holidays are finally here, and if you’re looking for things to do with your children or grandchildren over the next few weeks, Godstone Farm has just opened their gigantic new soft play barn. I joined their opening event and it was clear that Nickie and the team have worked incredibly hard to get everything up and running.

I know how much children enjoy meeting all of their animals and now they’ll be able to enjoy the slides, tunnels and obstacles just as much as I did.

Another fantastic local businesses held an opening event recently – the Titsey Brewing Co. I had the honour of cutting the ribbon for their new taproom, which sits atop the North Downs Way with stunning views of the rolling hills.

Guy and John have poured their heart and soul into the space, which is now open and serving hot food – and head brewer Craig Vroom has played a blinder with gorgeous ales and lagers that are produced on-site. Do make sure you pop in if you’re nearby to support this fab local business.

The result at the recent by-election in Uxbridge and South Ruislip was an outstanding rejection of Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ scheme, which could cost hardworking families in East Surrey £12.50 a day just for popping to the shops or taking their children to school.

In the wake of the result, we saw reports in the press that Sir Keir Starmer admitted that Labour had to ‘learn the lessons’ of the by-election, and that he was putting pressure on Sadiq Khan to rethink the scheme.

I look forward to welcoming Uxbridge’s new MP, Steve Tuckwell, to Parliament as we continue our campaign against the Mayor’s ULEZ expansion.

I had a busy month up in Westminster, where I gave my first major public speech as a Minister. I spoke about the Freedom of Speech Act I recently took through Parliament, which sets out strong new duties for universities to protect and promote freedom of speech on campus.

In recent years we’ve seen examples of academics or external speakers who have mainstream views being intimidated into silence, shouted down or cancelled, so we passed a law that means universities must encourage debate, not stifle it.

This issue isn’t just isolated to university campuses – it affects wider society too. I passionately believe that the fundamental wellbeing of our society rests on our ability to tolerate each other and that on an individual level, our ability to connect to each other is what makes us happy and well.

That’s the driving force behind so much of my work as your MP – whether it’s on the ground with my Friendship Project here in East Surrey or in my role as minister for children, families and wellbeing.

In my speech I said that embracing discussion is the only way we will be able to connect, to persuade, and to find common ground. If you’d like to read the speech in full, you can find a link on my website.

Finally, throughout August my team and I will be welcoming residents from every corner of East surrey for a free guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. We have lots of spots left so if you would like to reserve a space, please email me on claire.coutinho.mp@parliament.uk.

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