Monday, January 23, 2006

Positive and even cheerful points 

It has been a week or so needing some positive antidotes to events. One cheerful thought is that someone like Chris Huhne is standing for the leadership, and will have to be good to win because his opponents are good. That is a cheerful choice. But there are other positives to hang on to. Some thoughts from Milton Keynes.

Firstly real success on the ground from a LibDem council. This from Milton Keynes, as we reported in my local FOCUS a while back.

“The Home Improvement Agency (HIA) is an exciting new initiative from Liberal
Democrat Milton Keynes Council, in partnership with Age Concern. If you are a
home owner and over 65 (or receive certain benefits), the HIA provides FREE
advice, information and support to help you to adapt your home to your changing
needs, so that you can live at home safely and independently

HIA will: 1 advise you on practical building issues and preparing schedules for the work, 2 help you to find reliable contractors, and oversee the building work from start to finish. 3 offer information and practical help to get funding.

The HIA can help you deal with small repairs, major renovations, or adaptations costing thousands of pounds - from fitting new locks and security features to installing stairlifts or constructing bathroom extensions.

Many older home owners find getting involved with builders and building works a daunting task. The HIA, with Age Concern at the helm, will make it all manageable. Our aim is to help people to carry on living independently and safely in their homes.”

Note the emphasis on people setting their own goals and managing their own lives, with community and local state support to overcome particular obstacles. This frees up resources that can be targeted to people who really do need concentrated help – in MK we are developing Extra-Care Villages to support people in that situation.

Another thing from MK – the Open University is helping A-Level students especially those in technical subjects. And this opens up some exciting possibilities. Until recently the OU only took on students over 21. Now it is finding that some 16 year olds are signing on especially for maths and certain science and technology courses.

This raises for me an idea – developing national support for young people of exceptional talent who may be at schools really stretched to support them. A package to challenge the student and extend the skills of the teachers at the same time. Room for developments here, to draw on national initiatives to empower individuals and strengthen local educational resources? A way to bring real choice where it matters.

And yet again from my area, look at the work of the MK based charity the Helena Kennedy Foundation. This sets out to widen participation in Higher Education and tackle social injustice in Further and Higher Education. Higher education is still often perceived as unattainable by many poor, working class, ethnic, disabled and mature students. Take a look at its website to see the work it does. Apart from bursaries, it provide a support system for people who have never imagined going to such a place to cope with completely new and strange situations like an University. Closing date for applications this year is 24 March 2006 so if you know someone in your area who might benefit, point them this way. And of course if you are an individual or acompany who might wnat to support HKF...

And for us LibDems when we develop our education policies we need to draw on the experience and inspiration of organisations such as this.

So- anything in your patch that we can share and get cheerful about?

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