'Catching up on reading is a summer pleasure'

You can read my latest monthly column for the Witney Gazette, here:

I hope you are all enjoying the last of the summer weather before Autumn sets in. As Parliament is in recess for the summer, I have been back in West Oxfordshire getting out and meeting with as many people as possible. I have visited businesses, community groups, been out on the doorsteps and held my ‘Meet Your MP’ events across our area. Recess is not a time for MP’s simply to take as holiday. Summer is too great an opportunity to miss to talk with as many of you as I can about a whole range of issues, and to involve myself in all the things that are happening across our wonderful area.

That being said, I have been getting out on my bike around West Oxfordshire - trying to stay in shape in the warm weather - have enjoyed some much-needed time with my family and have caught up on a little reading.  Probably to no-one’s surprise, I usually favour books on history and current affairs, to ensure that I am well informed on the important issues that my job requires me to understand.

However, this summer has had an additional focus, as I have had the pleasure of reading to my toddler, Henry. There has been a lot of old favourites like “Thomas the Tank Engine”, but also “Goodnight Galaxy” to help him learn about space, as well as his first words in Italian to help him speak to our Italian family.

With my young son I am always conscious of the importance of ensuring that literacy starts at a young age; the Government’s success in ensuring that there are now 1.9 million more children attending schools rated good or outstanding, compared with 2010, is in part due to the focus upon high standards in phonics and literacy, and we are now seeing that bearing fruit.

Reading is therefore more than a pleasure, but an essential skill, and it should be accessible for everyone, of all ages, to help them learn new facts, life skills - or simply to relax.  Particularly in the summer holidays, it is critically important to keep children reading so that they can more easily get back in to the swing of things at the start of the new school year.

I commend the fantastic campaign by the Reading Agency to encourage children to read six books over the summer, championed by West Oxfordshire libraries.  Last year, I visited children taking part in the challenge at Witney Library, and nationally it was a huge success with over 760,000 children taking part.  This year’s theme is ‘Mischief Makers’, inspired by the Beano’s 80th anniversary.

In Oxfordshire, we are lucky to have such dedicated, enthusiastic staff and volunteers, and we are continuing to open new facilities which are adapted for our community’s changing needs. This was particularly commended in February by Libraries Minister, Michael Ellis MP, when officially opening the Oxfordshire County Library, who said that, “Oxfordshire libraries are thriving, not just surviving.”

You can see examples of this all over West Oxfordshire. For example, in many you can take part in ‘Digital Helper’ sessions where volunteers help people get online and learn basic computer skills.  The fantastic new Charlbury Library, as part of the Charlbury Community Centre, was also recognised recently on ‘Newsnight’ as a UK leader in how a library can thrive as a hub of the community in the digital age, and I enjoy visiting for a coffee when I have a local surgery.

Reading is a pleasure, it helps you to relax and, of course, continue to learn.  As I head back to Westminster in September, I hope to continue to make my way through my extensive reading list – and I hope my team aren’t too annoyed by the large pile of books I will be bringing back to the office!

As ever, if you want to speak to me any issue local or national, please email me at robert@robertcourts.co.uk.  I also send out a regular email newsletter where I keep thousands of you updated on all I have been up to in West Oxfordshire and in Parliament – I would welcome you to sign up if you are interested at www.robertcourts.co.uk.

Published on 29.08.18 in the Witney Gazette.