Opinion: 'Ipswich is lucky to have so many organisations dedicated to youth welfare'

This week Tom Hunt took part in a penalty shoot-out at the Inspire Centre in Ipswich

This week Tom Hunt took part in a penalty shoot-out at the Inspire Centre in Ipswich - Credit: Contributed

This week I’ve made a number of different visits to providers that are taking part in the Government-funded Holiday Activities and Food Programme.

The scheme gives eligible young people 15 funded days as part of the programme. Each provider puts together a slightly different package involving sports and other fun and enriching activities whilst also providing a nutritious meal.

Those who qualify for free school meals are eligible for the scheme but schools also have some discretion to add others who they believe could really benefit from what is being offered.

Last summer Ipswich was part of a pilot for the scheme and I visited the Inspire Centre on Lindbergh Road to see how it was working alongside the children’s minister. Over the past year I’ve lobbied the Government hard to continue it and roll it out across the whole country and I’m glad that it has. Though I take the point that some more certainty could be provided as to how many years the Government is going to guarantee the funding for going forward. This would better enable local providers to really plan ahead for how they are going to support our young people. This is something I plan to raise in the Education Select Committee as we head back to Parliament post Summer recess.

On Tuesday for the second year in a row I visited the Inspire Centre to see the work Inspire Suffolk were carrying out to support eligible young people between the ages of five to 12. I met a number of the participants and actually took part in a penalty shoot out where I only managed to convert a third of attempts against a goalie who I’m pretty sure was below the age of 10.

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Following Inspire Suffolk I visited 4YP (Suffolk Young People’s Project) on Lower Brook street. They had a slightly different focus and were working with slightly older participants. Here I took part in a number of games and attempted to list all 50 US states. I managed to get to 46! I was very impressed with the young people that I met, who were incredibly well informed about the local area and passionate about making a difference.

As I write this I am about to head off to two more today and one more tomorrow. The first one up today is at the Gaming Lounge on Princes Street where they have a programme that is able to cater to those with special educational needs. Bearing in mind my background in this area this is one I am particularly looking forward to.

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I couldn’t be more supportive of the Holiday Activities and Food Programme. After the 18 months or so we’ve had, where so many young people have not only missed out on significant time at school but also access to sports and youth clubs, this programme being rolled out across the country couldn’t have come at a better time.

When we think about the last 18 months or so and how the pandemic has impacted young people we shouldn’t just think about learning loss but also mental health and social development. This is why the Holiday Activities and Food Programme is so beneficial. It has the ability to cater for all three needs.

Ideally there would be more funding so more young people have access to the programme. I know some parents are paying for their children to attend as they are not eligible for funded places. It’s clear that there are many young people who could have really benefited from the programme who missed out. However, it’s a very good start.

Not only has it been great to meet so many young people benefitting from the programme but I’ve also really enjoyed meeting so many of those working with the providers to make it happen who are so passionate about what they do. They are very lucky in Ipswich to have so many brilliant organisations dedicated to the welfare of our young people. They’ve never been needed more than they are now.

Last week I had the opportunity to enter Ipswich by water. This was actually the first time I’ve ever been able to do this. I spent time with members of the Ipswich Maritime Trust who ran the sailing barge ‘Victor’. We headed off from outside Customs House on the waterfront and headed right down the Orwell and then a good way up the Stour (to where the Royal Hospital School is) and then headed back. Always a pleasure to catch up with the skipper Wes and learn so much about our Town’s proud Maritime heritage.

It really does seem like we have a strong case to make the claim that we have one of the oldest working Ports in the country. Quite rightly we hear a lot about the huge importance of the Port of Felixstowe but we shouldn’t forget the incredibly proud history of our own Port and the fact that even today it remains the number 1 grain exporter in the country.

This evening I look forward to attending a special reception with the Ipswich Windrush Society. Max Thomas who heads up the society has worked incredibly hard to assemble a hugely impressive Ipswich Windrush exhibition that is currently on show in the Sailmakers Shopping Centre. The exhibition does though need a more permanent home for the long term and this is something I’m keen to work with them on. If you haven’t visited the exhibition you should.

Throughout all of this my team is working round the clock to support those who have loved ones in Afghanistan. Many constituents of mine have been in touch regarding family members and friends who are at risk of persecution from the Taliban. Whilst the direct help we can give from London is limited, and the window to help those in need is closing, my team and I remain committed to doing whatever we can to help those at risk of violence. We remain in constant contact with the Foreign Office, Home Office, British Consulate and my constituents who are all pushing for the same goal. It is not easy, but this work is so important, and we will endeavour to help all we can.

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