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While the media’s focus may be on the comings and goings in Westminster, local community groups make a huge difference to the lives of people in Dudley South week in, week out. The last recess covered the platinum jubilee celebrations, and it was a real pleasure to join the events at Oakfield community centre in Brierley Hill, St Mary’s church in Kingswinford and the Dudley Hindu Cultural Association to mark the incredible service that Her Majesty has given during seven decades as our Queen.
We are fortunate in having many amazing community organisations in Dudley. I shall not try to match Sir David, but I would like to mention just a few I have encountered in recent weeks. Harry’s Café is run by the Top Church Training charity and helps disadvantaged jobseekers into work in catering and hospitality, as well as providing free food packages and online cooking classes. There is also Kingswinford British Legion, who I supported over Armed Forces Weekend as they raised funds to help ex-service personnel and their families.
As a former scout, it was a pleasure to join Dudley District Scouts to thank leaders and volunteers for everything they do to make sure that local young people have opportunities that otherwise just would not be available. It was a privilege to meet and support Stuart Bratt, whose Tough Enough to Care charity tackles male suicides by encouraging men to be open about mental health. The £80,000 lottery funding it has received will allow it to do even more to support even more people, and we want more local good causes in Dudley to get funding. That is why I organised a national lottery funding workshop last week. I thank Sinead from the National Lottery Community Fund for explaining to dozens of local groups how they can get funding and give themselves the best chance to succeed and do more for our community.
As we look forward to the Commonwealth games coming to Birmingham, it was great that Stuart was one of the local heroes, as well as Jennie Bimson and Councillor Shaz Saleem, taking part in the Queen’s baton relay; I look forward to it coming to Brierley Hill on Sunday evening. One of the baton bearers is from Pens Meadow School. I was pleased to see its amazing new forest school, which is an exceptional facility for its special needs pupils aged three to 19. I am delighted that Dudley Council has committed the funding for a new school building that will allow them to combine their two sites into one, providing better education and care on a single site for vulnerable pupils.
I also thank Dudley Council’s cabinet for blocking plans to build on precious green spaces at Lapwood Avenue, Bryce Road, Severn Drive and Bent Street. I hope that the Association of Black Country Authorities will also safeguard green-belt sites at Holbeache and the Kingswinford triangle when it meets next week, and that the Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will further strengthen green-belt protection.
Our green spaces are important to us in the Black Country, and it was heartbreaking to see large fires at the Fens Pool nature reserve and Ridgehill Woods during this week’s extreme temperatures. Disgracefully, some of them might even have been started deliberately. I join our community in sending a big thank you to everybody from West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service for their bravery in fighting and containing those fires.
Mr Deputy Speaker, as you know, last week marked Black Country Day—the anniversary of Newcomen’s engine. We are proud of our industrial heritage and it was wonderful to join pupils from Brierley Hill Primary School at Brierley Hill library as they unveiled the displays on our local history that they had created for the public to enjoy. It is now a decade since Gracie Sheppard designed the Black Country flag, which has become one of the biggest selling and most recognisable regional flags in the country. She designed it as a 12-year-old at a local school and it is now literally seen around the world—whether at The Ashes, the Indy 500 or Glastonbury.