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Peace garden a fitting and evocative tribute

March 23, 2018 1:42 PM
By Stephen Lloyd

One of the hardest things I think anyone can ever experience must be as a parent losing a child. Almost beyond words. This week in Parliament I asked the education minister whether his department would commit to putting a defibrillator in every school? I did so because only a few weeks ago I met the father of a young lad called Oliver King whose son had a heart attack, suddenly, whilst at school. Sadly he passed away but since then his father has been campaigning to get a defib in every school in the UK. Expert medical advice says many young lives could be saved if this simple, low cost appliance was available and a few people trained how to use it. The minister didn't commit to every school but he did promise to pursue the matter. I will keep on the case.

This Tuesday also saw health questions debated and I pressed another minister, this time from the Department of Health, to publish the timelines for when a new bowel cancer test to be rolled out. It's called FIT and to quote Public Health England they've stated: "FIT is a more sensitive test, so we will find more polyps and prevent more bowel cancers." Clearly the sooner the NHS start the programme nationally the sooner more lives will be saved, so I'm keen to pin the department down to a precise start date. Whilst I didn't get that I did get the minister committing, on the floor of the House, that a rollout announcement would be "very imminent" which is excellent. To get things done in politics involves a lot of pushing, prodding and reminding ad nauseam; in short persistence! Not very glamorous perhaps but it's very important to 'never' let up on the issue and as folk in Eastbourne know; I don't!

I am glad the government has come up with what I and most MPs consider a vital necessity, a pay rise for NHS staff. The detail is still being poured over but from what I've seen it looks a fair offer. It's also important the treasury is funding the three year package so it doesn't come from what are already badly stretched health budgets. With 5,000 more nurses leaving the NHS last year than actually started, often citing inadequate pay as one of the main reasons, this announcement will, I hope, stop the decline.

It would similarly be good if East Sussex County Council could also do the right thing locally and keep Milton Grange and Firwood House open. They're still going through the public consultation process which concludes near the end of April, with a decision made in June. Our petition to save the homes is now well over 9,500 signatures - a big thanks to St Anthony's resident Maria Galt for setting this up. Let's get over the 10,000 signatures so County Hall and the two key Eastbourne Conservative county councillors, David Elkin and Colin Belsey, really appreciate just how determined we all are to keep both these fine dementia respite and rehabilitation services open. Meanwhile, Cllr David Tutt who as well as being the opposition leader at ESCC, is also a St Anth's councillor, will be taking Maria Galt and her petition to County Hall in a few weeks. And because it's got more than 5,000 signatures, the threat to close these homes must be debated in the council chamber the following month. As I flagged earlier, it's all about keeping the pressure up.

I had a fascinating visit a few days ago with the group who have brought together the project to design and build a peace garden around the Wish Tower, in memory of the 185 Eastbourne residents who perished when the town was so heavily bombed in the Second World War. The sheer scale of attack was surprising in a way as it's not as if we were a major manufacturing or military services base. But apparently Eastbourne was, for a time, seen by the Germans as a key target because it lay adjacent to one of their proposed invasion landing sites in Pevensey Bay, and they wanted to soften the town up. Equally, as the bombers returned from blitzing London they would often unload the last of their deadly cargo. All told this meant that Eastbourne took a real battering - 98 bombing raids, more than 1,000 civilian injuries and an extraordinary 475 houses totally destroyed. I first learnt all this about 10 years ago when invited to meet a group of Eastbourne evacuees. Naturally I'd assumed it would be a group of elderly people who'd been evacuated as children from London to Eastbourne, to avoid the bombs. Not a bit of it. Eastbourne was targeted so regularly by the Luftwaffe that local children were evacuated 'out' to somewhere safer. Extraordinary really. Anyway - it was a real pleasure to meet the architect, the landscape gardeners and all the dedicated committee who have worked so hard to make it a reality. All led by Old Town resident John Boyle who had the original vision to install the peace garden. Well done and thank you for what you are all doing on behalf of our town. It's going to be a fitting and evocative tribute, of that I am sure.