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Hertford and Stortford MP Julie Marson on Mental Health Awareness Week, how our reconnection with nature will be important in post-pandemic world and local election results

Julie Marson, MP for Hertford and Stortford, writes for the Indie...

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. The importance of marking the event seems more significant than ever before given the challenges so many people have faced from restrictions over the course of the last 12 months.

Thankfully, businesses and society as a whole are now opening up again, but the lasting damage the pandemic will have caused to people's mental health is something that we will all, Government and individuals, need to take very seriously in the months and years ahead.

The culture shift in recent years that has removed much of the stigma associated with mental health and encouraged more conversations to take place will be hugely important to these efforts and it is right that we finally recognise mental health in exactly the same way we do physical health.

Local organisations have been working in overdrive to support people that need help and are still available. In Bishop's Stortford, we have the Wellbeing Centre where HertsMind offers one-to-one peer support and other counselling services. If you are struggling, please don't hesitate to reach out to them. Details can be found at www.hertsmindnetwork.org.

The theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is nature. It was inspired by the story of one elderly person who lost all in-person contact during lockdown but found comfort watching the birds outside.

In previously unimaginably challenging circumstances, nature has been a refuge for many of us. So many people I have spoken to have become born-again environmentalists and taken to walking, in particular, in a way they had never done before the pandemic.

On top of the obvious benefits to health that sustaining this behaviour change will bring, perhaps one silver lining to come out of the pandemic has been this reintroduction to nature that so many of us have enjoyed.

Places like the rivers Stort and Lea offer incredible tranquillity for anyone to go out and enjoy. I know that many hot spots have become even more popular recently, which makes protecting them even more important.

In my last column, I wrote about what we can do to help preserve our local environment. Measures like banning certain types of single-use plastic and introducing a new drinks container deposit scheme – which I mistakenly wrote was already in place but is actually planned for 2024 – are very important steps. But they are so much more powerful when combined with buy-in from people at an individual level.

The River Stort in Bishop's Stortford is susceptible to littering (47051480)
The River Stort in Bishop's Stortford is susceptible to littering (47051480)

My hope is that the new sense of attachment that so many people feel towards nature will catalyse a step-change in the way we all treat the nature around us. From conversations I have had with people around Bishop's Stortford recently, I know this ambition is shared by many others and I am determined to use my position to protect our local environment and grow the biodiversity that we enjoy in and around Stortford.

Continuing on the theme of nature, since my last column for this paper about littering and what we can do to reduce the problem locally, I have written to Hertfordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd to assess what tangible steps can be taken to dissuade litter droppers from littering in the first place and will update residents on this matter in due course.

I have also written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and to East Herts Council to request additional support for our local litter-picking volunteer groups. I was lucky enough to join a team of volunteers in the constituency just last week to help them on a session.

TUBS (Tidy Up Bishop's Stortford) volunteers ready to go litter-picking. Picture: Vikki Lince
TUBS (Tidy Up Bishop's Stortford) volunteers ready to go litter-picking. Picture: Vikki Lince

These people give up their own time to do this, motivated by a desire for a cleaner community. The work they do makes a huge difference to the community, so I am very keen to help them in any way I can.

For those of you that have not taken part in a local litter-picking group but would like to get involved, there is no better time to do so than right now. The Great British Spring Clean campaign runs from May 28 to June 13 and is a great way to get involved. To search for your local litter-picking group, you can visit www.keepbritaintidy.org/search-our-map.

Finally, I want to offer my congratulations to everyone who was elected as a local councillor last week. Whichever party a candidate belongs to, we are all united by a desire to improve our communities and deliver better opportunities for everyone. I look forward to working with all councillors, new and old, in the months and years ahead.

I want to also express my sincere commiserations to those who were not elected this time around. Locally, we lost some highly effective Conservative councillors who will all be missed for the work they have done to promote and improve their local communities for so many years. Thank you to those who did lose their seats for your tireless efforts and commitment to serving others.

As ever, if my office can provide assistance to you please do email me at Julie.Marson.MP@parliament.uk.

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