Column by Steve Barclay MP

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Churches are important buildings in our communities but they are costly to maintain and are often in need of work – which is why I am encouraging parishes across the area to apply for a slice of £15 million of government funding.

Chancellor George Osborne announced the special fund for the repair of roofs and guttering on vulnerable listed church buildings in his recent autumn statement.

I believe the scheme has potential to make a significant difference to our churches that are in need of repair, especially as grants can be as much as £100,000. There is a tight timescale for applications so parishes need to act fast.

On the subject of funding I am also pushing for a grant to help local performance groups in March obtain improved facilities at the town’s community education centre. Lisa Dickinson, who runs Dance Mania, approached me asking for help in getting the stage in the Station Road building refurbished, together with new lighting and sound systems.

Arts funding is something I feel very strongly about.

When I was first elected as an MP I was shocked to discover Fenland had received no arts funding in the past five years. Since then I have managed to help secure funding for the first phase of a major arts project in Wisbech and I am continuing to support plans by Father Paul West to establish a proper arts centre in the town. He wants to convert the Wisbech Institute into an arts centre, which is a fantastic idea and we are slowly making progress on this ambitious project.

Finally, one issue I have raised in parliament recently is the difficulty schools in our area have in recruiting and retaining teachers.

As a result I have asked David Laws, the Minister for Schools, to meet with me to discuss the possibility of establishing a teacher training centre of excellence in the Fens – an idea put to me by Clare Claxton, Principal of the Thomas Clarkson Academy in Wisbech.