Francis Maude: Age UK is making a huge difference

Last Friday was busy but I was pleased to be accompanied by Forest School student, Sam Cooper. He’d come for a taste of a day-in-the-life of a constituency MP and he certainly got it!

First off was a meeting with the chief executive of Age UK Horsham District. We discussed Age UK’s national campaigns and what the charity does locally. Staggeringly, this small but vital organisation has helped older people in the Horsham area receive £1m in unclaimed benefits – something that will have made a huge difference to many people’s daily lives.

They also run a number of local day centres; have a visiting service; organise minibus shopping trips and a ‘help at home’ service. Information and advice can be obtained via 01403 274495.

Next a quick hop over to Christ’s Hospital school for a catch-up with the headmaster and a session with students involved with their Community Action programme. The commitment shown by the youngsters I met was extraordinary – many of them have given their time and energy in local charity shops, residential homes for the elderly, nurseries, schools and even hospices. I heard about trips to Romania to work with children with special needs and, new for this year, a trip to Kosovo.

I enjoyed my visit, learned a lot and left feeling uplifted and inspired.

I was able to meet a couple of constituents at my Horsham office later in the day before moving on to Horsham’s Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee School. With pupils ranging from two to 19, this specialist Performing Arts school is for youngsters with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties.

It’s a great school with a warm and caring atmosphere and I went from discussing local and national issues with Mrs Dyer, the head teacher, to experiencing a remarkable eye-recognition computer which enabled me to influence what was on the screen by my eye movement alone – amazing and a great piece of kit for their children.

The school has wonderful facilities, only in existence because of formidable fund-raising – it was clear to me that this is a place cherished by its staff, families and community.

Before the day finished with the usual and important advice surgery, I met with the Collyer’s Politics Society.

It was great that so many students stayed behind on a Friday afternoon and I enjoyed the session.

I’d like to conclude by wishing Sam all the best for the future. It was great to share the day with him and I hope he found it useful.