Monthly Archives: November 2016





Rory Stewart MP has visited St Catherine’s Catholic School in Penrith, and met with Headteacher, Angela Hill.

During his visit Rory learned that one of the school’s teachers, Rebecca Davis, has been selected to represent the North West on a specialist maths programme which will see her, for this academic year, attend training led by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM). Rebecca will then be able to apply the training to her personal teaching and also train another member of staff.

Headteacher Angela Hill said “We are very proud of the fact Rebecca is part of this Maths training. This approach to maths is very practical and builds on the children’s knowledge and ability to apply their learning. Next year, this will be extended to more members of staff in our school and the wider Penrith Hub.”

Rory Stewart said “St Catherine’s is a wonderful school with a lovely atmosphere and great facilities, and I am thrilled to hear that they are adding to these assets by engaging with the NCETM scheme. A good understanding of numeracy is important for everyday life, and St Catherine’s is really investing in its teachers and ensuring that its children have every possible opportunity to reach their potential.”

Image attached (Rory Stewart MP and Headteacher Angela Hill)


Rural Public Transport Request

Kirkby Stephen and all other small rural towns where there is insufficient population to be economically viable enough to run public transport privately require local authority funding to supplement and support a decent public transport infrastructure for the following reasons:

1. To sustain and support local economies – less people visit towns that have no transport and even less when they see the town in economic decline.
2. To promote the quality of life and well being of citizens. Many in rural communities are literally devastated to have no means of transportation. No public transport effects families, elderly, young people and the vulnerable who cannot access a car.

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Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown holds his bri


Rory Stewart MP has commented on the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement today, welcoming in particular the initiatives that will boost productivity and connectivity for Cumbria’s rural communities and for the homes and businesses in Penrith and The Border.

Speaking today, Rory said:

“This is a sensible but optimistic Statement, and it will bring many benefits to Penrith and The Border and to other rural communities who look to places like Cumbria to lead the way in initiatives particularly to do with telecommunications and infrastructure development. Not only has the Chancellor continued to recognise the value of mobile and superfast broadband – and in particular, the need to invest heavily in the development of 5G mobile technology – but he has also responded to years of lobbying by communities from Penrith to Scotch Corner who have long advocated for the dualling of the road, confirming today that many stretches of this road will be developed.”

“I particularly welcome the news that the Great North Air Ambulance is to benefit significantly, highlighting the importance of the role our emergency services play in getting to our most remote communities, and a new Headquarters and Centre of Medical Excellence in the north is to be welcomed. Similarly, the figure mentioned for the Local Growth Fund sounds very positive and creates a framework in which infrastructure projects can be developed with economic certainty.”

“Many are concerned about the future of our economy post Brexit. Other announcements today, such as on rural rates relief and the confirmation of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, show that we are forging ahead and making the most of the opportunities that we have, and the strong economy that the final six years of government have helped to stabilise.”



p1000226Rory Stewart MP has welcomed the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, and in particular the over £1 billion of new investment in ‘gold-standard broadband’ and 5G mobile coverage,  both of which Rory believes will result in significant improvements to Cumbria’s hardest-to-reach homes and businesses. The investment will provide the world-class digital infrastructure that rural Britain needs, delivering improved connectivity across the county as well as in other rural areas, and cementing the UK’s position as a leading digital economy.

Rory, whose broadband and mobile campaign began before his election to Member of Parliament in 2010, has consistently advocated for the improvement of broadband and mobile coverage in Cumbria, and has applauded this significant contribution of resources.

He said: “The Chancellor’s commitment to investing in the need to connect the final percentage of households and businesses is highly commendable and a huge testament to all those broadband activists who have never given up on calling for the widest possible coverage. I have been fighting for many years now to improve our county’s broadband and mobile telecomms infrastructure and I am thrilled that government has increased the resources available. It is especially vital here in Penrith and The Border, where many communities still await broadband, and even more are lacking a basic mobile service. This is really important progress and I am grateful to the Chancellor for recognising the urgency of this investment.”

The UK is already a world leader in superfast broadband, however coverage in rural communities has long lagged behind urban areas. The improvements to broadband and mobile infrastructure will help overcome the primary obstacle to economic growth in rural areas –­­ isolation – which has an enormous impact on businesses’ access to service provisions, and their access to markets.



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A walk with the FT: London’s Hyde Park with Rory Stewart

Article first published in The Financial Times by Alec Marsh on 18 November 2016.

Rory Stewart’s stride is long and distinctive. Not Ministry of Silly Walks distinctive, more of a purposeful lope – like a greyhound in the moments before determined acceleration. I hurry to keep up as he tells me his desired speed is just over 3mph.

“Let me give you a sense of pace,” says the politician and author as we head towards London’s Hyde Park. “I have quite a long pace for my height – I’m just over 5ft 8in inches. My pace is almost exactly a metre long so I can count on doing 96 paces and knowing I’ve travelled 100m.”

After passing the tourists and evading the taxis, Stewart’s lurcher-like progress mercifully slows. “I have a romantic belief that walking solves things,” says the 43-year-old international development minister. “It solves my views on politics, my views on health, my views on life.”

A former soldier and diplomat, Stewart famously completed a 21-month walk through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal between 2000 and 2002, while on leave from the Foreign Office. The 30-day Afghan section in January 2002 inspired his first book, The Places in Between. “The Afghan walk changed my life,” he says. “It took me from what I was and changed my whole political philosophy. The next 10 years of my life were dedicated to challenging these interventions in Afghanistan and, later, Iraq – and almost all of the confidence I had to do that came from that 30 days of walking and the gap I saw between the rhetoric and the reality.”

Walking has continued to shape his outlook since his election to Parliament in 2010. “There is a Nigerian proverb: ‘You listen with your feet,’” he explains. “What I hope I take from walking is the idea that it is vital to get out there, that not much can be done from an office in the capital, and, in the end, politics isn’t a question of technical expertise or models, it’s a question of walking into different people’s lives and trying to elicit from them their descriptions of their priorities.”

Stewart’s new book, The Marches, is an exploration of the Anglo-Scottish border and includes a 380-mile journey from his cottage in his Cumbrian constituency to his family home in Crieff, in Perth and Kinross in central Scotland. The book covers geography, ecology and identity from before the Romans to the present day. It also explores his close relationship with his late father, Brian, a veteran of the Normandy landings and colonial administrator in the twilight of the British Empire.
He credits his father with instilling this passion for walking: “It’s ironic because he was 50 when I was born so he was already beginning to slow down but he had a real belief in walking and the outdoors and started me on these trips through jungles in Malaysia.”

This included a formative three-week stay in Borneo, when the young Stewart was about nine. “A lot of people associate the jungle with suffering because you’re always wet and sweating and there’s lots of creepy-crawlies everywhere. But, as a child, my impression of that huge primary forest was so positive – seeing a tiger floating down the river, imitating calls of white-handed gibbons, trying to walk quietly and completely incompetently through the jungle.”

At 16, Stewart hiked with his father in Thailand, finding hillside villages a world away from Bangkok. “Walking then became an idea of how I could reach a reality that you can’t in cities and you can’t find on roads,” he says.

As we stroll through Hyde Park, he notes how his father used to take him rowing on the Serpentine when he was aged two or three and shows me the spot where his father used to give him fencing lessons.

Stewart’s work in the Foreign Office also provided an interesting parallel between the generations. After the Iraq invasion in 2003, Stewart was deputy-governor of two Marsh Arab regions in southern Iraq. As the civilian agent of an occupying power, his role was similar to his father’s job as colonial official in 1950s Malaysia – though they had different approaches. At one point in Iraq, Stewart’s official compound was besieged by a mob. In The Marches, he recounts asking his father for advice while inside the compound with the protesters outside. The suggestion? Round up the ringleaders, shoot them and then impose a curfew. Stewart assures the reader that he had no intention of doing the former and no one had a clue about how to do the latter. He adds dryly that, as his father predicted, the building was stormed and ransacked.

His experiences and travels in the region led him to specialise in human rights policy as an academic at Harvard. In 2006, he founded a development NGO in Afghanistan and relocated to Kabul. Throughout his career he has kept on walking – chalking up some 6,000 miles across Asia and about 1,000 across Britain.

Stewart says he normally finds the first 10 miles of each day’s walk a pleasure. “Crossing 20 miles, it ceases to be fun. Past 25 miles, it’s actually becoming more of an act of willpower. And then if you get on to the silly distances, it becomes an endurance activity.”

What about walking tips? “My tricks are two pairs of socks on at any one time to stop blisters,” he says. “I try to rest on the fourth day; so three days walk, one day off, three days walk…”

He cannot overstate the importance of hydration. “If I’m in a serious place like Afghanistan, I carry chlorine tablets and take water from a river,” he says. “In each village, I drink prodigious quantities of tea, which is boiled. Never, ever, ever, ever drink unboiled water or unboiled milk.” He did the latter in Pakistan and ended up in hospital for three weeks.

Closer to home, he says you should “never underestimate how much English rural towns shut down” so know where your next meal is coming from. He advises beginners to avoid East Anglia: “That’s black-belt walking,” he says. “Flatter landscapes require a connoisseur’s taste.” I ask him about the ideal group size: “Three’s a disaster. Two’s good.”

As we come to an end, Stewart reflects on the meditative element of walking. In a typical eight-hour day, he says, “for about an hour or two you get a level of tranquillity and calm that’s very difficult to achieve in any other way. Your mind settles.”



Rory Stewart MP last week dropped in on a rugby coaching session at St Catherine’s Primary School in Penrith. The session was led by John Cooper from Kirkby Stephen’s Upper Eden Rugby Club, and Aubrey Mkhize, Upper Eden player and coach, and participant in the South African Rugby Union exchange program.

Aubrey is a former professional player from South Africa who is now pursuing a career in coaching through the exchange program, which sees talented rugby players and coaches from the traditionally disadvantaged areas of South Africa given the opportunity to spend between three and six months in the UK. They are hosted locally, coach rugby and share their culture within the community. Missing from the days session to sit an exam was Acwenga Gova, known as Sam, who is also participating in the programme and playing for Upper Eden.

John Cooper, Upper Eden Rugby Club Chairman, said: “It was a pleasure to have Rory Stewart meet this year’s South African visitors, his interest is most welcome. Since 2002 the Eden Community has welcomed and hosted over 30 SA visitors on this exchange programme, made possible  because of the support and generosity of Eden individuals, companies and schools. Upper Eden Rugby club and The Eden Valley Sports Partnership have worked together to benefit both the community and youth sporting opportunities, hoping this programme will allow us to continue to do so.​”​

The program launched in the UK in 2002, with Upper Eden being one of the original participating clubs, and operates alongside Eden Valley Sports Partnership to deliver first class rugby coaching into local schools; promoting health and fitness, increasing confidence, nurturing young talent, providing exit routes into local clubs, and offering the children a unique cultural experience.

Becky Wolstenholme, Development Manager for Eden Valley Sports Partnership said: “​We are delighted to work with local sports clubs and partners to enhance the offer of p.e. and sport to all young people in our partnership.  It is extremely important to provide a wide range of sports and activities for all young people to encourage and enable them to lead healthy active lifestyles.”​

The exchange program is supported by the British High Commission in Pretoria, the South Africa High Commission in London and the South Africa Chamber of Commerce, as well as Prince Harry, and Rory Stewart is due to meet with the Exchange Program Coordinator, Richard De Jager, in London in January.

Aubrey Mkhize said: “I’m loving my experience in Cumbria, and enjoy the challenge of coaching young kids who often have no experience, as well as the established teams like Upper Eden and the Lancaster Uni team. Some of the kids I work with have never seen or spoken to a person from a different continent, so it’s great to be able to share my culture with them, and I have taught them all how to greet in my home language.”​

Rory Stewart said: “I am very grateful to Aubrey and Sam, and the South African Rugby Union exchange programme for providing this opportunity for Cumbrians, which goes well beyond sport. The positive and lasting impact that participation in sports has on our young people cannot be underestimated, but this is much more than that. The rich cultural experience that this program provides, prepares our children for life in an increasingly diverse, globalised society, and I hope that the program will continue in Cumbria for many years to come”.15002493_10154035110485737_1898731526743821788_o



img_2768Penrith and The Border MP, Rory Stewart, on Friday met with Cumbria Constabulary’s Chief Constable, Jerry Graham, for an update on national and local Policing issues. High on the agenda were matters relating to mental health and the Police Funding Formula.

Following the meeting Rory Stewart said: “Dealing with and supporting those with mental health issues now forms the biggest proportion of work carried out by Cumbria Police. The Government is aware of the scale of the mental health crisis faced by UK Police forces, and tackling mental health issues must be a priority. I am pleased that Cumbria Police are working to improve the system for vulnerable people and would reject any budgetary change that would make this more difficult, and result in additional strain on our hard-working force. Cumbria is a rural area which faces unique challenges, and I will continue to work alongside Cumbria Police, and Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, to ensure rural policing is recognised and supported. I am very proud of our Police officers and Police staff, and am grateful to them for their hard work, and commitment to keeping our community safe.”




Rory Stewart MP is joining other MPs nationally in calling upon local schools, churches, and choir groups to host a ‘Singing for Syrians’ event in December.

‘Singing for Syrians’, part of the Hands Up Foundation which raises funds for charities working in war-torn Syria, is an upbeat nationwide campaign to encourage the whole of the UK to sing and raise money for Syrians this December. And Rory would like local people to get on board.

Speaking about the campaign Rory said: ‘It’s not too late to organise an event in time for Christmas. Singing for Syrians is a wonderful opportunity for local signing groups to help some of the most vulnerable people in Syrian society. Time and time again I have seen at first-hand the warm fundraising spirit in our community and I look forward to seeing this campaign take off in Penrith and The Border through the power of song.’

Interested groups are asked to contact Rory to obtain a fundraising pack, which explains how to hold a ‘Singing for Syrians’ event locally, with branding for collection buckets, and other ideas for how to make your event a success. All the money raised from the event will go to doctors and medical teams in the besieged areas of Aleppo.

For more information, or to request a pack, please email Rory Stewart at r[email protected]singingforsyrians1



Rory Stewart MP has written to the Minister Caroline Dinenage to express concern regarding the new funding rates for Early Years provision, which will see nurseries in Penrith and The Border potentially negatively impacted by new county-wide funding rates.

The new funding rates for 2017 will see an increase for most providers, with the exception of Maintained Nursery Schools, who may see a drop in income. As a result, Rory – who recently met with local nursery staff at the Muddy Boots nursery at Newton Rigg – has been lobbying the Minister for transitional arrangements to be put in place to alleviate any consequences, and in particular to request a review of the rate set for Cumbria which, as a county, is set to receive one of the lowest national rates.

Rory Stewart said: “From the indicative figures the Department for Education have provided, Cumbria is going to be one of the lowest-funded local authorities nationally. Not only do I want to raise the issue of the low rate for Cumbria, but also the disproportionate impact that the plans will have on Maintained Nursery Schools. Cumbria arguably deserves a much more generous rate because of all of the indices of sparsity and a lack of access to services, and I hope that the Minister will consider our representations carefully.”


Thoughts on my father

I have spent a lot of the last four years thinking about my father, and writing about him, and walks through Cumbria, in a book, published last week, called The Marches. I thought – at first – that I could learn more about him by interviewing him. Often, therefore, when we sat down for dinner at home, or travelled together abroad, I would put a tape-recorder on the table. The tapes preserve his deep baritone voice, with its rolled Scottish ‘r’s, speaking patiently and at great length about his time as a soldier, and later as a colonial civil servant, and intelligence officer.


But I didn’t learn what I expected from these interviews. I had known, for example, since I was a child, that, before I was born, he had kept a honey-bear as a British diplomat in Burma. Every day when he came home from work my sisters would say, ‘Daddy, Daddy the honey-bear is stuck up the tree” and he would have to climb up to coax it down with a baby-bottle. But I knew nothing about what he had thought or felt about his life in Rangoon. So I took him all the way back to Burma – after an absence of fifty years – and found his house, unaltered. Entering with him, I expected a sudden burst of new memories. But he was reluctant to leave the garden, where he had found a blackened stump. “That,’ he insisted triumphantly, ‘was the tree on which the honey bear sat – “Daddy, Daddy, the honey-bear…” And that was all I learnt. It was even worse if I tried to ask this talkative man about the character of his brother – who was killed in the War – about his ambitions and frustrations, or his nationalism. All he ever said about his own father was that he was ‘a quiet good-looking man, always reading the newspaper.’

But as I continued on the walk described in the book – from my cottage on the back of Ullswater, over Blencathra, to Maryport, up to Silloth, East to Wigton fording the Solway to Annan, and then working my way along the border-line to Berwick  – I realised my father was not the exception. Almost every one of the hundred people I interviewed left me as bewildered as I had been by my father. They spoke fluently about subjects, in which I had not expected them to be interested, and were often taciturn about their local area, which I thought would absorb them. I found it very difficult to guess much about anyone. The man in Jedburgh, playing border ballads on a border bagpipe, turned out to sing in an American accent, and came from Essex; remote hamlets that I expected to be filled with farmers contained IT consultants and aromatherapists; and even Willy Tyson, a herdwick shepherd by Blencathra who could count fluently in ancient Cumbric, wanted to talk mostly about the time he rode a motorbike to Afghanistan.

It was often difficult to create a coherent picture of an individual’s identity. A lady told me that she was a Scottish nationalist because of the miners’ strike, then conceded that most of the miners effected had been in England, and she hadn’t known any miners personally. She felt Scotland needed independence because England didn’t understand rural areas; but had herself grown up in Livingston New Town, a place with a population larger than the city of Carlisle, close to Edinburgh; and concluded by saying that Scotland was a gloomy place, and that she would much rather live in California.

Which brings me back to my father. His fiercest identification was with his Highland regiment, the Black Watch, with which he fought in the war. He was an extreme Scottish extrovert, swathed in tartan, serving haggis aggressively to his English guests; while remaining a fervent believer in the Union. He invested most of the last twenty years of his life in planting trees, and constructing earth-works around his house in Scotland. But if I tried to question him too seriously about any of this, he would laugh. He never took the trouble to learn the names of many of the trees that he planted; and although he gave names to his earthworks (a ‘lochan’, or a ‘ha ha’, a ‘duck-pond’, or a ‘dyke’), he frequently filled them in, or demolished them the following year. When I questioned him about a new kilt, he said that he had no idea what tartan it represented, and that he had bought it for ten pounds in a charity shop in Crieff.

So, I began to see his Scottish unionism, like the lady’s Scottish nationalism, not as a detailed historical claim, or something steeped in organic roots in a particular soil, but instead as something curiously improvisatory, even whimsical. But which nevertheless produced a strong sense of national identity. And I began to see that asking questions about my father’s past life was not the right approach. (Nor were questions about his beliefs – ‘Do you think about death, Daddy?” “Can’t see the point in that.”) What mattered about his identity did not exist in a philosophy, or in what he had once done: it erupted in present activity. What he might or might not have felt on a particular day in 1958 in a house in Burma was irrelevant. He was instead that living ninety-year old, who struggled cheerfully out of bed, straight onto his quad bike, to dig a hole; and he was the man who grinned when I asked precisely what that hole might be for. 5