I had the great honour and privilege to host the Holocaust Educational Trust’s first reception in the Scottish Parliament.
The Holocaust Educational Trust was founded in 1988, and played a central role in the establishing of Holocaust Memorial Day, in 2001. In 1999 it set up Lessons from Auschwitz, a highly successful educational programme which has given thousands of students from across Scotland and the UK the chance to visit the former concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and experience firsthand the terrible reality of the “final solution” – the Nazis’s attempt to systematically exterminate the European Jews.
The project is based upon the idea that we learn best when we experience directly; the pupils who have taken part speak movingly about the indelible impression the camps made upon them. Two of the projects participants, Dominic Bradley and Katie McKenna, delivered Time for Reflection in the Scottish Parliament to mark this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, their wise and thoughtful words – repeated during the reception - capturing the strange mixture of pathos and horror that Auschwitz-Birkenau continues to evoke.
Also present at the reception was Judy Russell, daughter of Holocaust survivor Ernest Levy, who settled in Renfrewshire and later recounted his wartime experiences in a memoir, “The Single Light”. Judy’s memories of her father added to the intimacy of the occassion, but also reminded us that the number of living holocaust survivors is rapidly dwindling. Indeed, as Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust put it, the Holocaust will soon make the transition from “living history” – as embodied by the survivors – to simply,”history”.
Ernest Levy correctly observes in “The Single Light” that “the lessons of the past are still to be learned”. The fight against hatred, discrimination and prejudice is likely to outlast all our lifetimes, and that is why I welcomed the announcement by the Scottish Government – represented at the reception by Dr Alasdair Allan, Minister for Education, Science and Languages - that it will continue to fund and support the Holocaust Educational Trust in its mission to educate a new generation of young people of the enduring importance of the Holocaust. There is still much we can learn.
I am glad to say that the event was both informative and edifying, and I would like to thank the Holocaust Educational Trust, and in particular Paul Evans, for asking me to host it. I look forward to supporting them in the future as they endeavour to rid society of religious and racial discrimination and prejudice.
I was delighted that I was able to use my first Members’ Business Debate in the Scottish Parliament to highlight the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) “Heartstart” campaign to introduce Emergency Life Support training in schools throughout Scotland. Coverage of the debate can be viewed on Democracy Live, and the speeches can be read in full on the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report. I would like to thank Ben McKendrick, of the British Heart Foundation, and Charles Fawcett, of Healthy Lifestyles Scotland, for helping to organise the debate.
The debate was well attended by fellow members across all parties, and there was a large degree of consensus regarding the general principles of the motion and the BHF’s campaign.
Thanks to a lot of hard work by a number of individuals, there are already some excellent examples of ELS training models in Scotland, and, as a Central Scotland MSP, I am proud to say that at the vanguard of these is the North Lanarkshire Heartstart scheme, led locally by the Healthy Lifestyles Coordinator Charles Fawcett.
Established in 2008, the North Lanarkshire programme provides ongoing support and advice for schools on ELS training, with support from, amongst others, the British Heart Foundation and St Andrew’s Ambulance Association.
A model piloted in St Ambrose High School in Coatbridge and other North Lanarkshire schools provides instruction in ELS techniques and trains pupils to act as peer tutors. I was fortunate enough to meet some of these pupils, namely Vicky McDowell, Monica Berry, Gemma Daly, Lauren Owens, and Kerryn Breen, at the event in Holyrood last month, hosted by my colleague Helen Eadie MSP. They exhibited great skill and knowledge in demonstrating a range of ELS techniques, including how to use a defibrillator, a vital piece of life saving equipment.
Thanks to the hard work and commitment of a number of partner agencies, not least North Lanarkshire Council, Emergency Life Support training is now available in 90% of North Lanarkshire’s schools – a shining example to the rest of the country.
Emergency Life Support training is hugely popular with pupils, parents and teachers; adheres with the aims and spirit of the Curriculum for Excellence; it is cost-effective, and, crucially, it can, it will, save lives. I hopethat other councils will follow North Lanarkshire Council’s lead and ensure that ELS training is available in schools throughout Scotland.
Langlees Family Centre works with a range of partner agencies from both the statutory and voluntary sector to deliver effective services to help children and families reach their full potential. It provides a wide range of formal and informal services, including parenting groups, informal drop-in groups for parents, babies in infant massage and ante/post natal support.
The Centre is jointly funded by Scottish Children’s Charity Aberlour and Falkirk Council.
I was delighted to hear that Aberlour, which provides help and support to over 40,000 children throughout Scotland every year, has received a grant of £650,000 from Microsoft, and I have tabled a parliamentary motion in recognition of the award, and of the excellent work Aberlour conducts throughout Scotland.
During my visit I enjoyed the privilege of speaking to staff and parents. Most people think of Aberlour as a children’s charity, but it is really a charity for the whole family. The closeness of the bond between the staff and parents was very heartening.
Parents can attend classes and receive advice, or gain a few hours of valuable respite. More importantly, however, they can share their problems with others who have had similar experiences, and the door is never closed, even after their children have left.
I have pledged my support to Mental Health charity See me, ahead of Scottish Mental Health Week (10th-16th October). See me is a Government funded charity which campaigns to end the stigma that surrounds mental health illness, and to alter public attitudes and behaviour towards those with mental health problems.
Around 1 in 4 Scots will suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives, and over 3 quarters of us know someone with a mental health problem. However, despite these figures, over half of those with mental health issues continue to suffer stigma and discrimination, some at the hands of friends and family members.
Mental health problems are the cause of great misery and suffering in our society, yet they remain dogged by stigma and prejudice. The factors that can affect an individual’s mental wellbeing include physiology, age, gender, and social, employment and financial status. Stress, anxiety and low self-esteem are also contributing factors, as are substance addiction and alcoholism.
The burden of mental health problems is not divided equally across society, but borne disproportionately by those who live in areas of social deprivation. This includes many communities in Central Scotland. We all want to live in a caring and compassionate society; and recent evidence shows that the healthiest and most equal societies are also the happiest. So if we are to address the issue of mental health we must also address the chronic inequalities present in society.
There are many different approaches to tackling mental health, but they all have the same starting point: recognising the reality and severity of the condition. That is why the educational work undertaken by See me is of critical importance; by promoting greater understanding we can help end the stigma that surrounds mental illness and to empower those with mental health issues to become full and active members of society.
I recently visited the First Scotrail Training Academy in Glasgow to learn about their new Modern Apprenticeship in Customer Service.
The apprenticeship lasts for 18 months and consists of three six month blocks, one for each of the 3 areas of customer service: hospitality, ticket examination, and station service. There are currently 11 trainees aged between 17-21 on the scheme, selected from a total 128 applicants from across Scotland.
I was extremely impressed by the facilities and the excellent standard of training. There was an open and friendly atmosphere, and great camaraderie between staff and trainees. However, what stood out most was the high calibre of the apprentices. They exhibited a confidence and composure beyond their years, and are a credit to themselves and their communities.
They are also an excellent example of what can be achieved through commitment and hard work, and I am sure that they are all destined for successful careers within the rail industry.
With so many school leavers choosing to attend university, Scotrail’s Modern Apprenticeship is a timely reminder that there are other ways to get on in life and, given the Scottish Government’s stated commitment to apprenticeship schemes, I expect to see evidence of similar schemes operating throughout Scotland.