An early start this morning as the baby seems to think 4.30am is a perfectly okay time to chat. After a few cups of tea, I decide a walk is better than endless versions of row-row-row your boat, so we walk down to Kingsdown beach and then up the huge hill back into the village. It is beautiful early: I see an old house covered in ivy near the ‘olde stairs’ that I’ve never noticed before. If you look closely you can see this this was once a very garden-proud house, with rows of plants and an overgrown greenhouse. I wonder what happened to the people there? My children would say ‘haunted’ and I’d say ‘probate dispute’ – that’s the difference between whimsy and hopeful M.P. I guess (although the writer in me would definitely love to go with haunted!)
Further up the hill, two people I don’t know, but clearly know we are new here wish us ‘welcome to the village’ and I wave to a lady I bought a couple of chairs from off Facebook Marketplace.
We head off to Elvington, an old pit village. The team have lots of great chats here this morning. People are completely fed up with their community having been neglected. We hear about benches not being replaced, nowhere for older people to sit down (endless Tory council cuts); we hear about drug-related crime having soared (Tories have cut 21,000 police officers); we hear about how hard some people have found it to get into the fruit picking opportunities in summer because they feel farmers prefer to employ people from outside the U.K; I speak to a man from Border Force, who confesses there is so much he can’t tell me and about the media blackout on so much of the truth from the French-English border. Again, even when people feel frustration with Labour, they kindly say they’ll vote Labour here to keep the Tories out. Pit villages don’t forget what the Conservatives did.
After lovely lunch at the Lydden Bell (really good, reasonable food, massive portions – go there!) we head to Shepherdswell. Barry Gardiner from the Shadow Cabinet is joining me there and a friendly crowd of Labour campaigners have come too. I wish I had time to pop into the East Kent Railway Trust as my kids and I love going there and they’ve recently been hit by arson again. I’ll pop in another day, as we have to speed (not really officer!) to Aylesham.
In Aylesham, Barry and I visit the new Community Living Room project at BeChange Community Hub. I love the team at BeChange and the work they do (cookery projects, skills and education opportunities, craft projects, work with young adults locally) is all amazing. This new project, run as part of the Camerados national initiative, is a space for anyone to pop into, to find company, warmth, a cup of tea, a friendly ear. In communities really hit by Tory austerity, this kind of safe space, without fear or judgement, is a wonderful thing.
Five minutes before midnight Barry texts me. He loved the day, he says, adding: ‘Everyone seemed so excited about winning Dover back and I’m sure that you can do it. The BeChange visit was exceptionally moving for me, talking to people who’ve really suffered under this government. Only five more weeks and we will have you sitting on those benches able to change the law to help them.’
Here’s hoping Barry.