Victoria Prentis, Member of Parliament for North Oxfordshire, Speaks During Charities and Volunteering Debate

On Wednesday 13 February 2018, Victoria Prentis MP spoke about the importance of charity work and volunteering during a debate in Parliament. Please see below for a full transcript of Victoria’s speech, taken from Hansard.

Victoria Prentis (Banbury):

“My parents were dedicated to voluntary work. Whereas other children played cricket, as you did, Mr Deputy Speaker, or played mummies and daddies or shops, my sisters and I used to play “holding a meeting”, and it was invariably a charity meeting. So it is not a great surprise that, all my adult life, I have tried to work at least one day a week for charity. That has enabled me to move from charity to charity locally, helping to buy a bus for Leonard Cheshire and selling cushions for Fine Cell Work—good golly, that was difficult; nobody likes giving money to prisoners, apart from those involved in the criminal justice system. I also raised money for the urology department—try that, guys; a urology ball, anyone?

There are two things that I am most proud of. First, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), I set up NorPIP, as a founding trustee. Our by-line was “Two is too late”, which is not quite true, but it focused strongly on the attachment issues between parents who are struggling and their very young babies. Secondly, I set up the benefactors’ board for my local hospital trust. We described that as the icing on the cake. What we were adding to the NHS, which we all really supported, were the bits that the NHS could not fund, such as new bits of equipment that it could not take the extra leap to fund, nice duvet covers for the children and equipment for the hospital school. I am proud to have set up that fund and ​chaired it for many years. I am also proud that my predecessor’s wife took it over when I was elected to this place. She is a great lady, and he is a great man. He has had a knock-back in his charitable experiences today as Age Friendly Banbury has not received the funding it went for, but I know that will not set him back.

I am trying to say that charity work is a great background for someone to be a local MP. It means they know people locally—leant-in people locally—and they know what is going on in their local area. It is of course a great background for everybody. As the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) said, it is really good for everybody’s mental health to volunteer. When our son died, my work for Save the Baby helped me to get back to playing a part in society. We can get positive things, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, out of tragedy.

To put it politely, volunteers are so much more powerful and good, at fundraising in particular, than paid charity workers. People give money to people. We know that, and we have proved it time and again.

We are not just talking about formal charities today. I would like to tell the Chamber about Tony, my next-door neighbour. He not only takes my children to the bus, reduces the local rat population, uploads new photos on the village website, takes other families’ dogs for walks, and opens and checks the church daily, but he does all this by 8.30 every morning. We all know people like this and, quite frankly, we want to grow into such people. It is great that, as the Minister told us earlier, 30% of adults are doing some volunteering. I would like her to measure not just the money that is given, but the time that is spent by stalwarts of our communities, such as Tony, who do so much for us.

I could not let such an opportunity pass without mentioning Singing for Syrians, which I set up soon after my election in 2015. I heard on the radio that Syrian doctors were working unpaid, and I thought we would have a bit of a whip round. Everybody I asked said yes and tried to help. It is my dream charity. We encourage people to do the work for us and to do their own thing—inspired slightly, I must say, by the Macmillan annual coffee morning. Everybody can get involved in the singing, or in eating at the fabulous Syrian supper clubs. This year, our flagship will be on 10 December in St Margaret’s, and a marvellous cross-party choir of MPs will be taking part. Others do the work; we just receive and distribute the money, and there are events all over the country.

We need the money more than ever. The Hands Up Foundation, which we fund, is one of the very few charities still donating into northern Syria, as the big players have pulled out. Our prosthetic limb clinic was flooded two weeks ago—all the equipment is kept in the ​basement to protect it from aerial bombardment—and we are trying to raise £10,000 to re-home the limb clinic, which provides such essential services to those who have lost limbs in the war. We are still about £4,000 short of that target, so if anybody would like to give me a cheque afterwards, it would be gratefully received. I encourage everybody present in the Chamber, perhaps if there is a boring moment later, to google “Singing for Syrians” and watch our very short clip, “Sing like they can hear us!” If they have three minutes and want a good laugh, they can google, “Singing for Syrians Flashmob” in Marylebone station, which is fantastic.

I would like to thank everybody who volunteers for all our local and national charities. I especially want to thank those who volunteer in north Oxfordshire. I am particularly proud that we have national bases locally for the Child Brain Injury Trust and for Adoption UK. I am inspired by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), who has a “Volunteering Week”, during which it appears that he does a lot of gardening. I am going to do “Victoria Volunteers” from 23 September for a week, when I am looking forward to cooking for Banbury Young Homelessness Project, eating cake at Restore, making tea at the Royal Voluntary Service and reading to children with the indomitable women of ARCh—Assisted Reading for Children—which is just a fantastic organisation. If I am allowed to, I will also do some volunteer driving for the people who volunteer out of the citizens advice bureau, but they may not want me and I may not pass the check. It is fantastic what is done by people all around our country, and I cannot praise them highly enough. I thank the Minister for all she does.”