The Swattenden Centre - 20-05-16 

Much debate has surrounded the entry of unaccompanied child refugees to this country but little is reported about what happens once they arrive.

To that end I visited the Appledore Centre, part of the Swattenden Centre in Cranbrook, last Friday. It has been used for some months to house for 6-8 weeks 20-40 unaccompanied boys aged 16 and 17, mainly from Afghanistan but also Iran, Iraq and Eritrea. Many of whom have been affected by the war in Syria.

These boys have been through desperate situations; fleeing war zones, witnessing their parents' deaths, and some encountering human traffickers and criminal gangs. Somehow each of them has managed to escape and find refuge in our country.

Great things are being done here by local people. Firstly KCC staff do an excellent job in managing the centre and looking after the children's welfare. They would struggle though if it were not for their small army of around 60 volunteers helping in all sorts of ways; people from right across Maidstone & The Weald and beyond, of all ages and experience. They teach the boys vital life skills such as cooking, speaking English and learning how to integrate into British society. In addition to this, the boys have access to recreational activities such as art, gardening, and other therapeutic activities.

A representative volunteer said: "We gain a great deal of valuable experience from this initiative. The young people are usually delightful and we are keen to support them after what has often been an extremely traumatic time in their lives. KCC staff have our greatest admiration for all they do."

Local communities are helping too, one example is the cricket and football matches taking place with children of similar ages in Sissinghurst and Cranbrook.

If you think you could volunteer then why not come forward? The Centre receives all of its volunteers through the charity Kent Kindness. For more information please visit: https://kentkindness.org.uk/

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Helen's weekly column is published every Friday in the Kent Messenger.  The content shown here may differ slightly from the press version.


Future of British fruit industry under serious threat


MP and Kent farmers confront DEFRA over major concerns facing the industry

Westminster, London 13-04-16; Major changes are needed if the Garden of England is to survive as a commercial horticultural proposition, say farmers.

'A toxic combination of unique and extreme packaging costs required by UK supermarkets, together with UK pesticide regulations, massive escalation in the cost of seasonal workers, systemic problems with the new online 'Basic Payment System' and difficult barriers to export markets are all conspiring to prevent our farmers from making a fair and reasonable profit – if at all' says Helen Grant MP.

The issues all arose from a meeting called and convened by the MP for Maidstone & The Weald whose constituency is home to a large fruit growing area in the heart of Kent's famous 'Garden of England'.

Following a 90 minute session with farmers, NFU representatives and senior officials from DEFRA in Westminster, Mrs Grant has produced an action plan to address these and other issues facing local farmers and related businesses.

Helen said 'These businesses are the beating heart of rural communities in my constituency. I will not stand by and see them face ruin when they are very good and viable commercial entities being thwarted by nonsense'.

Top fruit grower and NFU member Clive Baxter, of Westerhill Farm, near Maidstone, said: "The NFU and the industry has had various meetings with Defra to highlight issues and problems within the industry. We are very pleased to see Helen Grant's involvement. There has been a lot of listening to date from Defra but with our MP behind us we're hoping we'll see more in the way of actions and solutions from Defra. It is actions that we now need because our industry is suffering at the moment."


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HELEN GRANT MP

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