Superb afternoon at the Big Beach Busk at Portobello on Saturday. It was the sixth year of the sandcastle and yours truly was asked to be the judge. Forget the Tories welfare bill, arguments about power for Scotland, or even fox-hunting - decisions don't come any harder than this.
The sun shone and the beach was a hive of industry as more than 40 teams started to make sculpture from the sand. Most entered the family category with sometimes over enthusiastic dads taking the lead... but some kids did it all by themselves.
A change of pace on the tour today as I attended the White House tea dance. As well as tea and the legendary White House fruit scones, I had a bit of a dance and lots of chat with the locals. I also met Manager, Bob Giulianotti (driving the decks on this occasion!), and Head Chef, Richard Paton who outlined his emerging plans to combat food poverty in the area and help people enjoy, cook and generally reconnect with food. As we left I nipped round the back to see the crops in pots that form the basis of so much of the White House’s dishes– hugely impressed.
Without a shadow of a doubt one of the highlights of this Summer’s tour has been today’s trip to the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home. Like lots of people, I’ve been vaguely aware of driving past it on the Seafield Road but never given it a lot of thought. It was great to meet Howard Bridges the new Chief Executive – he lives on the premises with an uninterrupted view of the sea - and has been appointed to raise the profile of the Home.
Howard, and Operations Director, Lindsay Jardine, gave us a tour of the premises where we met lots of happy animals – so deserving of a forever home. Pictured here are Sasha – who, following cancer, has only three legs and is a big softy – and Miko - a boisterous collie who has gone from being very wary of strangers to forming a strong bond with his carer Vicky and will be snapped up when he’s ready. We also saw some adorable kittens and their young mum. The Home is particularly keen to promote their slightly older cats including Luna and April – two gorgeous torties and Andie a big, cuddly black and white charmer. My colleague fell in love with little stripey Mimi (pictured) who isn’t ready for rehoming yet. No wonder the staff here love their jobs!
The wealth of services and wonderful people doing great work in my constituency keeps astounding me. Today my tour took me to Crew 2000, who are a drug advice centre based in the central part of the constituency. They offer fantastic services including a drop-in centre and a welfare service, as well as doing outreach work in clubs and pubs. They offer direct help for festivals and events, and provide some addiction recovery services.
They were founded in 1992 by drug users themselves, concerned that the market was being flooded with dangerously cut drugs. They are based in the constituency of Edinburgh East, but they do work across Europe in the form of consultancy and working alongside other organisations.
Had a great visit to Drake Music Scotland – another hidden gem in the constituency. They offer musical opportunities to people with disabilities in the local community, the city and throughout Scotland. Everyone can make music and Drake’s vision to is to enable that to happen via the tiniest adjustments to musical instruments, through to developing and using the highest tech equipment. I even got to play harp using Thumbjam on the iPad with Equilibrium who were playing their own, lovely, composition using a combination of the latest software and a real viola. Then we nipped in to listen to Ceilidh Band who were rehearsing and they spontaneously struck up Scotland the Brave which I really enjoyed! They demonstrated how Figurenotes works - a music notation system based on coloured shapes that is much easier than normal music notation.
I visited the Thistle Foundation yesterday and met Mark Hoolihan, Diana Noel-Paton and some incredibly dedicated volunteers including Mags Hendry and Liz Deeming. They are an organisation based just off Niddrie Mains Road which supports people with disabilities and health conditions through health and wellbeing initiatives and supported living. They also work with health and social care professionals, offering training aimed at encouraging a cultural shift towards focussing on individuals needs rather than conditions or disabilities.
They are feeling very positive about the Scottish Government gaining more powers over welfare and hope that they will be able to use this change to greatly improve the work that they do.
I had the pleasure of visiting Craigmillar Books for Babies this morning and meeting Kara Whelan and Michelle Jones. They have been doing very important work with families in Craigmillar, Niddrie, Bingham and Magdalene for the last 17 years.
They aim to foster a love of books, rhymes and words both spoken and written, from a very early age.
I had a very moving visit to the Trussell Trust foodbank in Leith earlier. Ewan Gurr (Head of the Trussell Trust Team in Scotland), Rev. Iain May (Foodbank Chair), Arthur Mathieson (Project Manager) and all the volunteers work incredibly hard and offer a vital sticking plaster to our broken system. The most common reasons for people requiring the support of the foodbank are benefits changes, benefits delays and low income. It is imperative that we tackle food poverty and these systemic causes and I will be fighting for this in Westminster.
If you are in a position to be able to help, the foodbank is short of Smash, Jam, Sugar, Tinned Meat, Creamed Rice and Steamed puddings. You can find out more here.
I asked the Minister if the government would require the Electoral Commission to disclose donations for parties in Northern Ireland from before 2015. This follows allegations of dark money from the Constitutional Research Council, which is linked to the Scottish Tories, to the DUP. As usual, no straight answer.