Central Devon is an enormous constituency – one of the largest in England and possibly the only constituency in the UK which covers four local authority areas – Teignbridge, Mid Devon, West Devon and East Devon. It stretches from Hatherleigh in the north west to Bradninch in the north east and then down to Buckfastleigh in the south (some 550 square miles). Often my busy local diary sees me zig-zagging across it, which I never mind, particularly when driving through Dartmoor. But last week the driving was kept to a minimum, as a day of visits conveniently centred on the Teign Valley.
These included a visit to Christow Primary School to meet six-year-old Ernie Barradale who had come runner-up in a competition to design my 2020 Christmas Card. His wonderful drawing of a smiling planet earth along with the message “all I want for Christmas is a healthy world for all”, in the midst of a global pandemic, could not have been more appropriate. Covid restrictions had previously prevented me from visiting the school and awarding Ernie his prize. Two Year 6 pupils then took me on a tour of the excellent outside facilities at the school.
While in the village I also visited M Welsh Catering – an award-winning catering company. I had met the owner last year to support the launch of a new takeaway that the business was launching to help keep it afloat. With the hospitality and catering industry among the worst affected sectors of our economy, the owner was anxious about its future. Fast forward 12 months and I was pleased to hear that the business has weathered the Covid storm and is bouncing back strongly. This seems to be the case with more local businesses than we might think. There are undoubtedly those that are still struggling (and I will continue to do whatever I can to support them) but there are others that are doing very well. Many have told me that the pandemic has served as a something of a catalyst to making positive changes such as learning to do more online and generally becoming more efficient.
I then visited a beautiful local wedding venue – The Great Barn at Higher Ashton. Although many of the remaining Covid-related restrictions that were due to be lifted on 21st June were postponed until 19th July, an exception was made for weddings, where some of the rules did change. While indoor dancing is yet to resume and guests must be served food and drink at their tables, there is no longer a limit of 30 guests. This is a game-changer for the industry and its supply chain.
I am hopeful that more local businesses affected by the remaining restrictions (such as our pubs) will benefit from a similar boost after 19th July. With data clearly showing that our vaccination programme has broken the link between case numbers and hospitalisations I am optimistic that the date will go ahead as scheduled.
Photo: Mel dropping into Christow Community Shop during a day of meetings in the Teign Valley.