This article was written by Damian and published in this week's Herald editions and Petersfield Post:
"For me, one of the most welcome things about the easing of restrictions last week was the opportunity to return to more normal constituency visits, and restarting face to face surgery appointments.
Visiting businesses and attending events, talking with teachers and children in our schools, seeing the amazing work done by the many charities based locally; it is a privilege to meet so many people and organisations and discuss the things they are so passionate about.
One of the most important sectors here in East Hampshire is farming, and I was delighted to spend time with members of the local NFU at Meon Springs on Friday.
We talked about the on-going challenge of climate change, the opportunities and the issues in international trade, and the high standards of British agriculture.
There is good work underway to build awareness and understanding of modern farming among young people and in schools. Farmvention and Farm STEMterprise are two such STEM-based schemes that engage with primary and lower secondary aged children through competitions and teaching resources. There is also a programme for farmers to visit schools and discuss misconceptions and preconceptions that sometimes exist about the sector.
Many farmers continue to diversify their businesses for new income streams through retail and leisure pursuits. Meon Springs is a great example of this, having built a successful fly-fishing business, and now glamping, as well as self-storage facilities on its site.
My second visit that day was to Sky Park Farm, just outside West Harting – another example of how passion and innovation can drive the creation of a new enterprise.
Reviving the tradition of red deer farming locally, the owners are focused on producing high quality venison, as part of a much wider and more sustainable approach to farming. Keen to share their knowledge with others, the venture invites people to experience life on a working farm and will include a shop, butchers and café as well as an adventure playground and education hub.
The vision is impressive – restoring a way of life not seen locally for many years, and using modern practices to create a unique and sustainable business that not only celebrates the best of local produce but also allows visitors to be part of the story.
This week is English Tourism Week and reminds us just how important tourism and travel is as a sector here in England, which in 2019 generated more than £100 billion and supported 2.6 million jobs.
As the country opens up once again, and holidaying at home remains the choice for many, hundreds of attractions will be relieved to be welcoming thousands of visitors over the all-important summer season.
Tourism is also important here in East Hampshire, not only as a gateway to the South Downs National Park, but also for our fantastic cultural assets such as Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Gilbert White’s House and Garden in Selborne, the re-furbished Petersfield Museum, to the different delights of steam on offer at Hollycombe in Liphook and the Watercress Line in Alton.
With beautiful countryside on our doorstep, walking and cycling is another key attraction for visitors, and I was pleased to meet many local organisations involved in this at the recent Walking and Cycling Fair in Alton.
The rain in recent weeks may not have been particularly conducive to either walking or cycling, but I know many people are eager to get out about, particularly with half term next week.
Visitors coming here are important for our local economy. For us, there is certainly much to entertain and enjoy close by, and being prepared for all weathers is something that we are probably quite used to."