Competition was fierce and the adrenaline was pumping, with wheels burning the eager participants were ready for the off. No this was not the Swaffham raceway, though I did have the pleasure of being suited and booted to raise the chequered flag at the track last month, but it was the official opening of the new Feltwell Skate Park that I had been invited to open. There was some seriously impressive spins and jumps from the kids on display, my moves were a tad more constrained, and after a fantastic fund raising effort to secure the funds for the park, I know it will be a very popular asset to the village.
It is wonderful to see residents out supporting all the local events in South West Norfolk. The Swaffham Sheep Fair proved to be incredibly popular. Local councillor Fabian Eagle is very much at home as ring master and auctioneer, entertaining the crowds with his patter (whilst I struggled to control my wayward sheep). You think I would have learnt the art of negotiation working at Westminster, but this particular woolly friend was most defiantly following her own path. The farmers market showcased some delicious local produce, which I of course had the pleasure of trying out, and it was lovely to see such a large turnout at the event.
Community spirit is thriving in Barton Bendish when I met villagers to discuss the proposed new village hall. Architects have come up with two proposals and I discussed with parish council members their future plans for the hall which included the work required on the hall floor and their ultimate ambition to bring the whole village together so that a range of social and educational activities can be provided on a regular basis. Support like this is so important in our rural villages and helps maintain the wonderful way of life that we all appreciate. Meeting residents from Mundford, they were keen to discuss with me their concerns about speeding traffic through the village. We walked along the A1065 with HGVs and cars whizzing by; certainly felt like the 40 mph speed limit was being broken. With no pavement and a lack of a suitable safe crossing, this is an ever increasing concern and I am keen to assist them in finding a solution. The Director of Highways from Norfolk County Council Tom McCabe also joined us on the walk and he agreed to look at the options to improve the situation.
June saw the arrival of the F35 jets into Marham. Reflecting back to 2010, it has been a remarkable few years – the base was originally earmarked for closure or re-designated as an army base with the Tornado aircraft relocated to Scotland. I was very proud to lead the Make it Marham campaign when businesses, residents, councillors, MPs and the media all came together to lobby for the long term future of RAF Marham. A petition with 37,000 signatures was presented to Number 10 Downing St. Substantial lobbying of ministers and the Prime Minister ensured the Tornado squadron remained at Marham and that it was to become the home of the next generation of fighter jets. Â£500 million has been invested in upgrading the base with a national operating centre – the headquarters for the Lightning Force constructed. A maintenance and finishing facility, which provides an eight-bay hangar for engineering maintenance purposes plus somewhere to paint the jets, has also been built. There is also an integrated training centre, which will house four full mission simulators and ground crew training facilities. The jobs, skills and value to the local economy, in excess of £100 million, that RAF Marham contributes is tremendous and I am absolutely delighted that the RAF are in South West Norfolk