My weekly roundup from the European Parliament, the UK and beyond.
Events during last week were overshadowed by the shocking terrorist attacks in Brussels.
When the terrorists struck close by in the metro, I was hosting a meeting of Fabian Women in the parliament. The enforced lockdown, whilst creating difficulties, at least allowed me to spend several hours with the women who greatly appreciated learning about my unusual political journey - one of the women has since decided to run as an MEP in the future!
I also met with representatives from Traidcraft last week. They are a Fairtrade organisation based in the UK and working internationally. I am a strong supporter of the Alternative Trade Mandate (ATM) which was endorsed by the European Parliament in January 2014 prior to my election. Quite simply, the ATM states that trade should not harm people or planet.
The months of March and April always provides an opportunity to reflect on the two worst nuclear accidents the world has experienced: the meltdown of Chernobyl nuclear power plant 26th April 1986 and the more recent disaster at Fukushima in Japan on 12th March 2011. I visited Fukushima with the environmental protection organisation Green Cross and attend meetings of the parliamentary group Nuclear Transparency Watch who work closely with civil society. A worrying aspect of modern terrorism is the security risks posed by nuclear installations. In the hours following the Brussels attacks the Belgian government took precautionary measures at Tihange nuclear power station and it is now being guarded by the army.
I managed to get back to the constituency on Wednesday via Eurostar (my usual method of transport) where I joined Coronation Street star Marc Anwar (businessman Sharif Nazir in the show) as a guest of honour at Myriad Foundation's annual Community Champions Award. Four schools in Greater Manchester had made the final shortlist: Radcliffe High School, Kingsway High School, Islamic High School for Girls and Stockport Academy. Each made an excellent presentation about their work at local and international level. I was pleased to hand out the awards, including a signed shirt from Manchester City football star Yaya Touré and thank the teachers and pupils for their contribution to our wonderful, cohesive, diverse community in Greater Manchester.
On Thursday Julie talked to hundreds of primary and secondary pupils at events in Lancaster and Warrington, telling them about her work as a MEP, answering questions and encouraging them to find out for themselves about politics and world affairs as the media do not always give a balanced view. In particular I talked about her work with refugees. Some of the pupils have already been in touch, wanting to know more.
Although Friday was a Bank Holiday, I was as busy as ever, out and about meeting people. I spent the morning talking to dentists about their forthcoming humanitarian mission to the Calais Jungle refugee camp, and then visited Rethink Rebuild, a Manchester-based charity that supports Syrian refugees by providing advice, activities, language classes, networking and advocacy. The charity also advises decision-makers on policy regarding the treatment, resettlement and integration of Syrian nationals who have managed to reach the UK.
Another minority group that I work closely with is the Kashmiri diaspora who continue to battle for self-determination for their ancestral home and for justice for the victims of violence and oppression. I was pleased to meet with members of the Jammu and Kashmir Independence Group last week, along with fellow Labour MEP Afzal Khan.
Working on the issue of displacement and homelessness is important for me. When I went on a fact-finding FEMM Committee mission to Munich in February, I was impressed by the way the authorities had provided facilities for the city's homeless population at the same time as creating a refugee reception centre in an old military barracks. Like many of our British cities, Manchester has an increasing number of homeless people. I met with Manchester City Councillor Beth Knowles to discuss creative and inclusive approaches to working with homeless people and attended a performance of Streetwise Opera's moving performance of The Passion which features homeless people as the main actors and chorus.
Whilst in Manchester I was also able to see for myself the difference European Funding has made to neighbourhood regeneration in Fallowfield, visiting an area known as The Triangle where streets and shops have been spruced up. Here also, the local library was saved by residents and now operates as The Place, a social enterprise offering a range of services including English language classes, a fitness gym and a credit union as well as the much valued library. Computer facilities at The Place have also been funded by European Funding.
Before finishing work this Easter Julie attended an epic performance of a co-production between her old theatre company Contact Manchester, Liverpool's Unity Theatre and acclaimed arts group Quarantine. The performance of 'Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring' took place at the Old Granada Studios featuring over 60 performers – “real people” in place of actors -
including a dozen or so pregnant women.
There is hope still in Spring and the birth of new life. We hope that you managed to find some peace over Easter.