Peter Heaton-Jones MP
Working Hard for North Devon
News Update -
Date: 1st June 2018
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North Devon District Hospital
A few weeks ago, the management team at NDDH announced they'd started negotiations with their counterparts in Exeter about closer collaboration. I said at the time I would reserve judgement until we knew the details, and that the sole purpose of any arrangement must be to ensure the sustainable delivery of acute services in Barnstaple.
Last Friday I met the acting Chief Executive of the Northern Devon Healthcare Trust, Andy Ibbs, and the Board Chairman, Roger French, to discuss the details.
The two trusts – NDHT and RD&E – will share a Chief Executive and Chair. However they will remain two separate entities. There is no question of a 'take over', nor of any services moving from here to there.
Last year, the NHS England review concluded quite rightly that all acute departments should be retained at the NDDH, but set the challenge of doing so in a sustainable way. This new arrangement does just that, and means we can share resources and expertise to our long-term advantage. In fact, I have been told that some procedures currently not available in Barnstaple may be able to be delivered here in future as a result of this collaboration.
The local community is passionate about our hospital, as am I. I will soon be meeting the new Chief Executive to hear more about the collaboration and how it will safeguard the future delivery of services in Barnstaple.
Institute of Technology
Following the excellent Link Road announcement, another major investment of government money could be coming our way. The move to create a South West Institute of Technology – in which North Devon would play a leading role – has been successful at Stage 1 of the bidding process.
This is a £30m joint bid to provide state of the art, industry-led technical training and skills across the region. It's been put together by a partnership of five of the South-West’s leading colleges (Petroc in Barnstaple, Bridgwater & Taunton, Exeter, Plymouth and Truro & Penwith), our two Universities (Exeter and Plymouth) and six of our largest employers (TDK Lambda in Ilfracombe, EDF, Babcock, Met Office, Watson Marlow and Oxygen House).
The Department for Education received 35 initial applications from across England. These have now been whittled down to 16, which will undergo detailed assessment before the winning applications are announced.
Last Friday, before we knew the good news, I met Petroc's Principal, Diane Dimond, and we discussed how best to promote the bid. Suddenly, it's become a lot more significant!
Competition will be tough, but we could be months away from yet another multi-million pound government investment in our area.
Last week, as seen in the photo, I had a fascinating tour of some of Barnstaple's oldest surviving buildings: the almshouses in Church Lane.
Traditionally almshouses were founded by benefactors when individual parishes had the responsibility for caring for their inhabitants. Although times have changed, the Trustees of Barnstaple Municipal Charities continue to manage these almshouses as 'dwellings dedicated to the poor and needy of Barnstaple'.
They were built between 1629 and 1665 and replaced some even older homes which had fallen into disrepair. They're located near the ancient parish church of St Peter’s and St Mary Magdalene’s, where the original deed refers to the name of the road as Whitpit Lane.
The money for these buildings was provided by Thomas Horwood, a Mayor of Barnstaple; Elizabeth Paige, consort to another Mayor; and Thomas Harris, a local businessman. They originally established four almshouses, but eight more were built on the site some time later.
Subsequent alterations have reduced the total to the eight almshouses we know today: four houses and four flats. The houses surround a cobbled courtyard and the whole area provides an important insight to Barnstaple’s past history, while they continue to function as intended when first built.
Another similarity with the buildings' origins is that Barnstaple Municipal Charities still relies on contributions, donations and grants to keep the service going. This can be a challenge, and during the visit I heard more about the fundraising work that's going on.
It's especially relevant at the moment, because an impressive restoration and improvement project is being undertaken. The aim is to sympathetically renovate the buildings so that they each have their own entrances and there are no longer any shared facilities.
I was privileged to meet one of the longest-standing residents who is looking forward to moving into one of the restored homes very soon.
This is not only a fascinating part of Barnstaple's history but also a real asset to the town today, continuing to provide a valuable service nearly 400 years after their foundation. I would urge you to take a look, and especially any local businesses who would like to consider supporting this excellent project can find out more at the website: http://www.barnstaplealmshouses.co.uk
North Devon on TV
I have to end this week with a brief mention for the brilliant BBC drama about Jeremy Thorpe, my predecessor as North Devon's MP. A Very English Scandal is currently the TV highlight of the week, dominating Sunday night telly.
The story is pretty well known, and the programme, based on the book of the same title, seems to stick pretty faithfully to actual events.
Many scenes were filmed here in North Devon last year, and it's good to see our area 'starring' in a primetime programme. Hugh Grant is brilliant as Thorpe, and Ben Whishaw equally impressive as Norman Scott, who Thorpe was cleared of conspiring to murder in 1979 following claims the two were lovers at a time when homosexual acts were still illegal.
In many ways it's a tragedy, but the programme tells it with a light touch which I know some people are finding a bit difficult to reconcile.
I think it's excellent. The third and final part is on this Sunday; if you've missed the first two, I urge you to catch up on the BBC iPlayer. You won't be disappointed.
Peter Heaton-Jones MP
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