A FEW months ago I nominated Swindon charity SMASH (Swindon Mentoring and Self-Help) for a Kids Count Inspiration Award, and earlier this week I was delighted to present them with Highly Commended in the ‘Best Contribution by a Community Group’ category in Parliament.

SMASH does amazing work mentoring children and young people who may be struggling due to their personal circumstances. The charity and its volunteer mentors work to build their confidence and help them achieve their potential by arranging events and activities, and giving them the opportunity to try out new experiences not normally available to them.

I have worked closely with SMASH, meeting with volunteer mentors and hosting their various meetings and training sessions at my office. This has enabled me to see first-hand the vital work the charity does and the positive impact it has on the young people it helps.

I wanted to make sure that their work was recognised, and thought the Kids Count Inspiration Awards would be a fantastic opportunity to do this.

The Inspiration Awards recognise the many unsung heroes, from mentors to young people themselves, all of whom contribute significantly to their community. The Kids Count Inspiration Awards Ceremony has been held annually on the Terrace at the House of Commons for nearly a decade – and I was delighted to be there in person alongside Helen and Claire from SMASH.

Elsewhere this week, I was invited to attend an event by the Dogs Trust in Parliament, as part of the campaign (which I very much support) to crack down on the horrific trade of puppy smuggling.

This is where unscrupulous breeders take advantage of issues with the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). As a result, underage puppies are being illegally imported into Great Britain from Central and Eastern Europe to be sold on to unsuspecting members of the public. The puppies travel long distances in tiny cages without food or water. This takes a huge toll on their health, and they often arrive dehydrated, malnourished and requiring emergency care.

Thanks to the quick intervention and expert care from the Puppy Pilot scheme and Dogs Trust, 94% of the puppies coming into their care were saved, but sadly 6% passed away.

The Government has recently passed a raft of legislation to improve animal welfare - such as banning pesticides that harm bees, increasing sentences for animal cruelty and banning the ivory trade.

Puppy smuggling is another animal welfare issue which the Government really wants to tackle, however current EU protocols on animal welfare restrict what we can do. We are therefore looking at the options post-Brexit which will present us with an opportunity to strengthen animal welfare laws here in the UK.

Locally, my community office has been busy this week with residents popping in to buy Scout Stamps and drop gifts off for our Christmas Appeal. It is fantastic to see people getting into the Christmas spirit and supporting such good causes. People have until 12th December (Tuesday) to buy stamps and post Christmas cards, which will then be sorted and delivered by the Scouts the week or so before Christmas.

We will be accepting Christmas Appeal donations until 15th December (Friday.) These gifts will then be distributed to elderly people who are experiencing loneliness and isolation this Christmas.