Celebrating the Year of Reading

Reading is one of the most important skills that you can teach a child and will define how well they achieve educationally and throughout their whole lives.

Barbara and I would read to our children every day when they were young until they were old enough to read for themselves. Even then we would encourage them by buying books and taking them to the library, which I do now with my grandchildren.

The other morning on my way into work I listened to a report on the radio about the level of disadvantage experienced by a child at school if they have not been read to from a young age. Many of them will struggle more than children who have experience of reading and may never make up this delay in their learning.

In Peterborough reading levels are lower than the national average. I want that to change, and quickly, so that every child in the city has the same opportunities to share a love of reading. That is why we launched Vision for Reading last year with our partners at the National Literacy Trust, Vivacity and City College Peterborough.

The campaign asks everyone in the city – teachers, parents, businesses and others – to play their part in helping children to develop a lifelong love of reading which in turn will improve their life chances.

Boys reading books

As part of it we’re supporting parents to prepare their children for school by, for example, reading to them at home, we’re training reading buddies in schools who can read with children and we’re celebrating the Year of Reading which launches on 22 June.

Everyone is invited to attend the launch in Cathedral Square between 10am and 4pm where there will be storytelling, free books to take home, activities and more.

The event kicks off a year-long programme of events that will include The Space Chase summer reading challenge, Roald Dahl Day in September, writing competitions and story trails. You can find out more by visiting www.peterboroughcelebrates.org.uk.

The year will culminate with a striking trail of book-shaped benches across Peterborough created by schools, community groups and businesses in association with creative producers Wild in Art.

Whether you’re a parent, business owner, or teacher, please support our campaign to get every child in the city enjoying books from a young age. For our children it will lead to improved life chances and for our businesses it will mean a better qualified workforce of the future.

Raising reading levels will always be harder for us in Peterborough than for many other areas because of the number of different languages spoken in our schools and a higher than usual number of children starting and leaving school mid-year.

But it is a challenge that we must meet and together I believe that we can. (more…)

Mental Health Week – Awareness and Support

There’s been lots in the news this week about mental health awareness and how we can all help people who might be suffering in silence.

As leader of the council I see examples all the time of the impact mental health problems can have on people’s lives, so I’m always pleased to see the issue being highlighted.

For example, our housing needs team regularly come into contact with people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness because their lives have been affected by mental health problems. Without support this can lead to relationship issues.

Our social workers support young people who are struggling to achieve their full potential, residents who are finding it hard to be good parents and adults who are struggling to lead independent lives. These challenges can often be a result of mental health problems.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the importance of talking about mental health is being emphasised – how listening cannot be underestimated, and how each and every one of us has the power to make a difference to someone’s life.

What always concerns me is that it is often not obvious when someone is suffering, in the way it is with a physical disability.

Many years ago I had an uncle who was affected by the war and his mental health suffered as a result. There was no support for him and he was never fully recovered.

Back then no one knew what to do – we didn’t even know what to call it. As a result, my uncle was partly ostracised, not because people didn’t care, but because they felt uncomfortable around him. On the rare occasions that anyone did talk about what had happened, my uncle was described as having ‘had a funny turn after the war’.

In the decades that passed, I’ve seen a shift in how people with stress, PTSD, anxiety and depression are treated. The fact these conditions now have names and people feel comfortable talking about them in their homes, the media and on the street shows you how far we have come. (more…)

A university is closer than ever

Anyone who knows me will tell you how committed I am to seeing a fully fledged-university in Peterborough.

It’s the single biggest thing we can do to stop our talented young people from leaving to build their lives elsewhere and ensures that our businesses have a good crop of people with the skills and talent they need to apply for jobs.

We’re closer than ever to there being a dedicated Peterborough University. University Centre Peterborough (UCP) is continuing to work towards gaining degree awarding powers and research is ongoing into the type of courses which will meet the needs of students and businesses. An appraisal is also underway of the Bishop’s Road site where the development of a new campus for up to 2,000 students is proposed.

pboro uni

Developing an independent university is an exciting but complex process and although I would like it to happen tomorrow, it takes time to achieve.

In the meantime, the number of people studying degrees in the city is increasing year on year, with double the number of young people from our schools starting a degree with UCP in 2018 compared to the year before. That’s fantastic news and proof that more of our young people are improving their career options.

I was also impressed to hear that more than 250 students graduated last year with good numbers achieving the higher grades. Eighty-eight per cent of integrated engineering students and 57 per cent of sociology students achieved a first class honours, which is fantastic.

The undergraduate provision at UCP has also continued to grow with the launch of new degrees in digital arts, digital marketing, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical and manufacturing engineering and five new business management degrees.

Having a fully-fledged university will result in significant economic benefits for the whole city, and at the rate we’re progressing, it may not be that far into the future that we achieve it.

Click here for more information about the degree courses available in Peterborough.
(more…)

Peterborough prepares for Christmas

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is now less than two weeks away, but then again 2018 has flown by at some pace.

If like me you leave your Christmas shopping until the last minute, then I’m sure the next few days will be busy as you prepare for the big day.

Please do be aware, however, that over the Christmas and New Year period, our council offices will be closing their doors.

Our main offices, including Sand Martin House, Bayard Place and the Town Hall will be closed from noon on Monday 24 December until Wednesday 2 January 2019, with no face-to-face services available.

Peterborough Offices

However, the council’s call centre will open from Thursday 27 December to Monday 31 December between the hours of 9am and 5pm and there will also be support in place for key services.

Our office buildings and call centre will open as usual on January 2.

The other key change to remember is that black and green bin collection days alter between Christmas and New Year. Full details about office closures and bin collection changes available here. (more…)

Peterborough’s bright future

Let it grow, let it grow – Fletton grows

We are at an important moment in Peterborough’s future development as a city.

Earlier this year, the first stage of the Fletton Quays development was delivered. It will be complete by 2020.

And just last week, a planning application for North Westgate, which will include office accommodation, homes, cafes, restaurants, a hotel and a public square was signed off by planners.

Future peterborough

These two important milestones, represent a new age for Peterborough, as it looks to transform into a larger city and a destination in its own right.

Over the next 15 years, our population will grow from around 200,000 to 235,000. That’s a massive increase of over 17 per cent.

We are literally building the future. The infrastructure and landmarks our children and our children’s children will come to see as iconic to our city’s look and feel. That’s why it’s important we get it right.

LDA Design is a Peterborough based landscape architect company, which specialises in redeveloping urban areas so they work best for the people that use them.

To give you an idea of their credentials, LDA were the brainchild behind the Olympic Park in London and its post-games transformation, the University College of London’s pioneering new campus and have won hundreds of awards for what they do.

Now they have kindly agreed to lend their services to the council free of charge, to create a 20 page development framework – or blueprint – of what our city should look like in 2035.

As a Peterborough based firm with city born and bred owners, they have a vested interest in making this their most exciting and innovative creation yet.

The blueprint welcomes visitors to our city with a large plaza outside the train station, guides them through North Westgate, through the city centre and out to an arena/concert hall by the river.

After watching 2035’s equivalent of Ed Sheeran, you could then either catch a water taxi to Nene Park, pop up to the new university campus further up the Embankment, or grab a gin a tonic at the distillery at the Fletton Quays development and POSH stadium.

It’s a bold design, packed full of retail, leisure and entertainment features. But it’s one which will help secure our future as a larger city destination, boosting tourism and opportunities for local residents.

The design will be on our website from next week for you to look at and comment on.

(more…)

Time to switch energy provider?

Over the past week we’ve had two definitive signs that winter is well and truly on its way.

The first was the clocks going back at the weekend and the darker evenings and the second was the mention of frosty mornings on the weather forecast. If you haven’t put the heating on at home yet, now’s the time to adjust the thermostat and beat the winter chill.

And if you’re one of the millions of UK households that haven’t switched energy providers in the past year, I’d like to make a suggestion that could save you a considerable amount of money this winter.

Peterborough Energy Logo

Peterborough Energy (delivered in partnership with energy supplier OVO) is the council’s energy tariff available exclusively for city residents. Over 10 per cent of the city have made the switch over the past two or so years, saving more than £1million between them.

When I switched over three years ago, I saved £300 off my annual fuel bill and continue to make savings each year. Just search for Peterborough Energy online, or arrange a free home visit by calling 01733 642272.

At a time when our budget is plummeting it’s these kind of innovative partnerships which have enabled us to continue delivering great opportunities for our residents, saving them money in the case of Peterborough Energy.

(more…)

Keep fit and help good causes

This Sunday the city will be packed with people hoping to achieve a personal best in this year’s Perkins Great Eastern Run.

This annual event is a highlight in the city’s calendar and one which attracts more and more people each year since its return in 2006.

Running has grown in popularity over recent years, partly thanks to the sporting achievements of Mo Farah and the rest of Team GB in the London and Rio Olympic Games.

However, I think it’s also down to the freedom it offers and its ability to fit easily into our modern lives.

Running (and walking, my personal favourite) are the few forms of exercise that can be done alone and in almost any environment. You don’t need any expensive equipment, you just put on your shoes and go.

The health benefits of regular exercise and getting out into the fresh air are undeniable and we all know we should be doing a lot more of it.

So with that in mind, I’ve got two messages for you ahead of this Sunday’s race event.

Firstly, I’d like to wish everyone participating in the half marathon and the Anna’s Hope 5km Fun Run an enjoyable and successful day.

And secondly, I’d like to invite everyone reading this column to make time this weekend for a 30 minutes walk or run. If you want to tie it in with watching the Perkins Great Eastern Run in action, you can find the route on the PGER website. However, one of the best locations to watch the runners pass is Cathedral Square.

(more…)

Barnet council buying Peterborough homes will place extra demands on our resources

This week we learnt the unwelcome news that Barnet Council has bought a number of homes in Peterborough to let and manage as temporary social housing for their homeless families.

As council leader this is immensely frustrating as it will place additional demands on our schools, health services and other resources. It will also lead to increased pressure on the the first-time buyers market.

What’s more, as Barnet Council bought the homes through its housing provider Barnet Homes, it has no legal obligation to tell us about its plans. And as yet it hasn’t – we only know of its intentions thanks to the Peterborough Telegraph.

Interestingly, we have since learnt that officers at the London borough did agree to forewarn and engage with us during a meeting in May to mitigate what they saw as a potentially unpopular decision. Unfortunately this never materialised.

The issue we face is that Peterborough is now seen as a low cost housing solution for many London Borough councils. Suitable homes in the city can be picked up at a fraction of the cost of a similar property in London.

Sadly, the trend for London Borough councils looking for cheaper temporary accommodation for its residents elsewhere is a national trend which shows no signs of slowing down.

This was something we were fearful of when the properties on St Michael’s Gate were bought by social housing provider Stef & Philips last year and one of the main reasons we agreed to lease the homes to use as temporary accommodation for our own residents in housing need. Although there were some people who disputed our prediction that another council would use these homes, the decision by Barnet points to the fact that our assumption was likely true.

We will now be contacting Barnet Council about its intentions, not least so we can start to plan for the extra residents this decision will create and the additional pressure on our services.

We will also be asking our MPs to raise the matter in Parliament, as a change in national legislation is the only way we can prevent other councils from using the city as a low cost option for its housing problems.

(more…)

Devolution delivers new homes for Peterborough

As part of the devolution deal across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough the government committed to a housing fund of £100million to be spent over the next five years.

The fund will be spent across the area to build more properties including affordable homes.

I was pleased to secure such a large fund to support residents, especially as the original offer from government was to be spent across all of Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Suffolk and Norfolk!

Details have been announced this week of the first projects, subject to approval, that are set to benefit from this funding that was only available as part of a devolution deal for the area.

(more…)

Peterborough’s unsung heroes honoured with Civic Awards

Earlier this week the city got a chance to say thank you to some of its unsung heroes.

The Peterborough Civic Awards honour those people or organisations that go above and beyond to help out in the community.

This is the third time we’ve held the awards and it was fantastic to hear about what all the winners have achieved to make Peterborough an even better place to live.

I’d just like to highlight a few of those that received an award on Tuesday, some I’ve known for many years. I’d mention more but I have to keep to a word limit – so don’t be offended if I’ve left you out!

(more…)