Community Engagement and Heart Health Education Day

On Sunday 5 May, it was great to join Meridian FC at their Community Football Tournament and Health Awareness Day in memory of former Meridian player, Robert Eshun. I also thank the British Society for Heart Failure for joining and raising awareness of the 400,000 people in the UK with undetected heart failure.

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#LetGirlsPlay football sessions for International Women’s Day 

Friday 8th March 2024 marked the third annual #LetGirlsPlay football event across England. I was delighted to visit two schools in Erith and Thamesmead that took part, St Thomas A Becket Primary School and De Lucy Primary School. 

Team sports have such a positive impact on the wellbeing and health of our young people so it’s amazing to see so many girls across the country taking part. I was so impressed by the skill and competitiveness of the young sports stars. 

I was very pleased to hear that so many students were interested in taking part in football at their school that trials had to take place to select the first team.  

Being part of a sports team is such a great way to develop skills in team-working, leadership and resilience. The success of the Lionesses has inspired the nation and it is vital that girls have the same football opportunities as boys in schools and clubs. 

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Cornerstone School with London Sport Visit

It was great to visit Cornerstone School in Belvedere this month to join a sports session supported by London Sport.

Cornerstone School provides a foundation of learning tailored to pupils aged 11 – 19 who have a primary diagnosis of autism, and Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs. London Sport is a charity focussed on tackling inequality and inactivity in London and is distributing £5.7m of funding to schools in London over a three-year period.

Thanks to this funding, Cornerstone School has been able to run projects for its students with new equipment and increased accessibility.

It was amazing to see the students showcasing their sports skills and competitiveness at the gym, table tennis and trampolining. I was particularly impressed with the leadership and dedication of the headteacher and her team. It was clear how passionate all the teachers were to make sure the students had a nurturing, friendly and supportive environment.

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Visit to London South East Colleges

It was fantastic to visit the London South East London Colleges Bexley campus this month. I had an insightful discussion with the CEO and Student Union President, as well as a tour of the college’s impressive facilities. 

It is so important that we hear directly from young people on their experiences with mental health, which is why I was very pleased to have been able to have a roundtable discussion with students from the College. 

We know that our child and adolescent mental health services are in a severe state of crisis, with the number of children and young people undergoing treatment or waiting to start care having reached new records. That’s why Labour will recruit thousands more mental health staff to cut waiting lists and ensure more people can access treatment alongside creating an open-access mental health hub for children and young people in every community. 

My visit only reaffirms my commitment to championing our colleges, empowering our teachers, and providing every student with the tools they need to succeed. I look forward to working with the College in future to support the talents and aspirations of the young people in Erith and Thamesmead.

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Local team from YouthBuild Ventures UK visit to Parliament

It was wonderful to meet the local team from YouthBuild UK, who came for a tour of parliament finishing with a Question and Answer session!

I thoroughly enjoyed talking to these young people who asked brilliant questions about the role of an MP, the function of parliament, job prospects and Britain’s economy.

YouthBuild Ventures UK do great work in opening access and career opportunities with construction organisations for disadvantaged young people at risk from social exclusion. It was great to meet the group in parliament and I want to thank them for coming.

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Roundtable on Mental Health app ‘Shout’ with Google and Mental Health Innovations

This month, Abena hosted an important roundtable discussion in Parliament alongside Google and Mental Health Innovations, a charity supported by Google.

The aim was to explore the potential of AI in enhancing the efficiency of Mental Health Innovations’ (MHI) digital support service, Shout. The gathering brought together parliamentarians, Shout beneficiaries, senior representatives from MHI and Google, as well as Professor Peter Fonagy OBE, Head of the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at UCL.

One of the key outcomes of the discussion was Google.org’s commitment to supporting MHI’s with funding to leverage AI in improving their flagship service- Shout. Shout is a text message service providing free, 24/7 mental health support to anyone in the UK.

During the roundtable, Parliamentarians received tailored reports for their respective regions, shedding light on the utilization of the Shout support service and the prevalent mental health issues in those areas. The focus was on exploring how digital services can augment mental health support and better cater to vulnerable groups across the UK.

Abena was joined by other Parliamentarians including Tracey Crouch MP, Liz Twist MP, Jeff Smith MP, and Andy Slaughter MP, who contributed valuable insights from their experiences supporting constituents through mental health challenges, while understanding the ways in which young people seek support through AI Tech enabled platforms such as text services and AI chatbots.

One of the most poignant moments of the discussion was hearing the parents of a 12-year-old girl who benefited from the service and from Emily, a dedicated volunteer at Shout. Their testimonials highlighted the profound impact of tech-based mental health services, such as text support and AI chatbots, in reaching and aiding vulnerable individuals.

Google’s Vice President of Product Management also spoke about how Google Search directs vulnerable individuals towards the help they need, and Professor Fonagy spoke on the transformative potential of machine learning and AI in crisis intervention.

This roundtable highlighted the collaborative efforts between policymakers, tech giants, and mental health experts in harnessing technology to address mental health challenges.

Abena Oppong-Asare, Shadow Minister for Women’s Health and Mental Health said:

“It was a pleasure to join Google and Mental Health Innovations today in parliament to discuss the important subject of mental health. The services provided by the charity are vital for those suffering with their mental health and I’m pleased Google.org is providing the financial resources to help develop the use of AI to optimise and improve the efficiency of their flagship service Shout.”


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Alexander McLeod Primary School Visit

Great to visit Alexander McLeod Primary to hear from students about their Black History Month project on the Windrush scandal.

I was so impressed with the student’s knowledge of the Windrush generation and their ability to communicate this important story that impacted so many people’s lives. 

I was also interested to hear about the student’s investigation into the different demographics of people who live in Abbey Wood and how this has changed over the years. 

Engaging with young students and seeing them so interested in politics is inspiring and truly one of the best parts of being an MP.  The enthusiasm and dedication of all the teachers and support staff at the school was evident to see. 

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Norwich Hospital and Mental Health Hub Visits

We know that so much more needs to be done to tackle NHS waiting times and to address the mental health crisis faced by our youth.

This month, I was pleased to join the Labour candidate for Norwich North, Alice Macdonald as we met the hard-working staff at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and also the fantastic team at the Risebrow Mental Health hub in Norwich City centre.

It was really important to hear all the pressing issues they are facing and I was also pleased to share Labour’s plans on how we would do things differently.

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Visit to Windrush School

It was great to join pupils from Year 6 at Windrush Primary School in Thamesmead this month. It was really nice to be grilled by them on what I’ve been doing as an MP and hear about why they love living in our local community.

A big thanks to the school for inviting me and I look forward to coming back again soon.

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Abena’s Summer School 2023

I’ve been delighted last month to hold my third annual Campaign Summer School.

At my jam-packed 3-day event, we had a fantastic group of enthusiastic and inspiring young people who were incredibly engaged in learning about how to make a successful campaign and gain the skills needed to make a real difference in our community.

On the first day, I was excited to share my journey to Parliament and what I do as the MP for Erith and Thamesmead. We were also privileged to be joined by Laura Coryton and Rima Amin, who shared their 5 steps for turning a petition into a successful campaign. Laura founded a campaign against the tampon tax in 2014 and Rima worked with Laura on the campaign when she worked at Change.org. We were also joined by Paul Richards who shared his expertise on writing press releases and Christine Quigley and Nick Smith who introduced the students to the world of finance and public affairs.

“Our campaign lobbied the government into establishing the tampon tax fund, through which almost £100m has been donated to female-focused charities”

Laura Coryton on her campaign against tampon tax

On day two, we were joined by Google, who shared how to navigate and make full use of the new digital age to build on campaign ideas, business ideas, and how to kickstart your career. It was also great to be joined by Kwajo Tweneboa who shared his first-hand experience of going from a concerned citizen to a veteran campaigner on housing issues across the country. We were also pleased to welcome Katie Perrior from iNHouse Communications and media experts from 853 and the Guardian, who shared their important knowledge on how to make a campaign successful.

We started the final day with a presentation about how Parliament works with a special briefing from an expert team at the UK Parliament. It was great to see the students ask so many questions about how our government works and how each of them can personally make a difference. I also want to thank Councillor Anthony Okereke, Leader of Greenwich Council, Martin Angus, from the Local Government Association (LGA), and Councillor Zainab Asumramu for sharing their important personal insights into the role of Local Government and how to get politically active in your local community.

Every year this is such a special week for me. I get to spend lots of time sharing what I know about campaigning and Politics and learning from local young activists across our community who care passionately about a number of critically important issues.

From national issues like Climate Change and the cost-of-living crisis, to local issues like vaping in schools and tackling fly-tipping, it was fantastic to discuss their ideas about what they can do to campaign for change.

I want to send a big thank you to all the speakers who joined during the week, to London South East College team in Erith, who hosted us, and to my team who did a wonderful job making the Summer School work so well. Finally, I also want to send a big thank you to all the students who were so engaged and optimistic and I’m sure will go on to do great things in their careers.

You can follow what happened on my social media or by looking up the hashtag #AbenaSummerSchool2023.