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Councillor discusses community transport, a Fairstead youth project and a Gaywood group for those with respiratory problems

Independent councillor Jo Rust writes this week’s Friday Politics column and discusses a transport scheme, a youth project and a group for those with respiratory conditions…

I’ve recently attended some really interesting events and meetings that I’d like to share with you. I went out for the morning with the West Norfolk Community Transport team and was incredibly impressed with the service that they provide our residents.

The driver I was out with, Adey, provided such a caring experience, assisting residents onto the minibus and helping them with their shopping bags and other paraphernalia. All the people who used the bus spoke so highly of him and the service as a whole.

Jo Rust at the Breathe Easy group meeting
Jo Rust at the Breathe Easy group meeting

It was set up to provide a range of safe, affordable door-to-door transport services for people who are unable to access public transport due to location, age or mobility issues. The services contribute to increased levels of social inclusion, helping people meet up with their friends in town or taking them to and from medical appointments. It was commonly referred to as their lifeline, so important is it to those who use it.

The following week I was pleased to attend a new youth project – The Pizza Project, now running at the Fairstead Community Centre for young people aged between 11-16. The first session was really well attended and the young people were clearly having a great time.

They were far better at badminton than I was and I had to retire from the game early! Since 2010 and the austerity budget inflicted on the country, we have seen so many services to young people cut, youth clubs being one of them.

In 2021 the YMCA carried out research that found spending had been cut by 71 per cent in real terms since 2010/11 – or almost a billion pounds, on youth services. This shocking statistic is clear evidence of how little value the Conservative Government places on our young people.

This service provision gap then led to more cases of anti-social behaviour and a risk to our young people of being exploited and used in serious organised crime. The data is clear in the improvement that the Pizza Project has seen in North Lynn at the Beacon Church where it has been running for a longer period. Incidents of youth-related crime and anti-social behaviour have dropped significantly. We all benefit when we invest in young people.

Then this week I attended the Gaywood Church Centre and spoke to Breathe Easy, a support group for patients with respiratory conditions, their family and carers. It meets once a month on the last Monday of the month from 1pm until 3.30pm.

They often have speakers, as well as health care professionals in attendance and they offer other activities such as refreshments, raffle and quizzes. I spoke about our energy-efficiency schemes because people who have compromised lung capacity really do need to keep warm, and choosing between heating or eating is still sadly the reality of life for too many people.

Shockingly a recent report found that more than 12,000 people in the UK died from asthma attacks between 2014 and 2022, with a 23.7% increase in asthma deaths during the same period. With the population of Norfolk and Waveney increasing fastest in the older age ranges and at a rate greater than England, respiratory deaths made 15%- 25% of the life expectancy gap prior to the Covid pandemic.

Groups like Breathe Easy can offer vital support. And we have one of the leading companies for asthma inhalers in our town, with around one-third of them currently in use around the world being produced by Bespak. Every second of every day there are around 1,000 people across the globe using an inhaler manufactured by the company in King’s Lynn. But there needs to be routine assessments of inhaler technique to ensure effectiveness.

Sadly increasingly stretched healthcare professionals don’t have the resources to provide people with the support that they need. Let’s hope a general election changes this sorry state.

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