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Sadness as much revered Ifield Councillor Geraint Thomas dies unexpectedly

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Tributes have been paid after the sudden death of the highly respected Crawley Councillor Geraint Thomas on Wednesday (27th Nov) at his home.

Geraint, who had been an Ifield resident since 1987 and lived in Crawley all his life, had worked in the council since first being elected as a Northgate councillor in 2009.

Previous to this, he had worked as a geography teacher at two Crawley schools, St Wilfrid’s and Hazelwick before he retired after 31 years in 2005.

After his election as Northgate borough councillor in 2009, he was active in the formation of Northgate Matters residents group, helping to organise a meeting with outside speakers from both sides about the possible second runway at Gatwick.

A keen walker and cyclist, he promoted not only the development of cycle paths but also the need to discourage cyclists from using busy public footpaths.

Geraint was active in various committees on the borough council – notably Planning – and was a prominent debater in the council chamber.

A great supporter of West Sussex Library Service he took great exception to the Conservative County Council’s decision to allow the use of Crawley Library premises for ‘Amazon lockers’ given that multinational company’s poor record on paying tax and its employment practices.

Geraint spent some years as a  Community Governor at Northgate Primary School.

Despite his many council and other commitments, Geraint managed to pursue various wider interests such as watching rugby, reading, gardening, cycling, walking and making and listening to music.

In 2013, he was involved in research about the effects of the First World War on people in West Sussex using local newspapers as part of a West Sussex County Council project that culminated in the publication of a book ‘West Sussex: Remembering 1914-18’ edited by Martin Hayes and Emma White.

Geraint was instrumental in moving a beautiful hand-written scroll detailing the men of the village of Lowfield Heath who were killed in World War 1 from the now redundant St Michael and All Angels church in Lowfield Heath to Crawley Museum.

Since 2016, Geraint was the Cabinet Member for Environmental Services and Sustainability at the Borough Council and worked hard to improve recycling rates and sustainable transport in Crawley.

Natalie Brahma-Pearl, Chief Executive of Crawley Borough Council, said:

“It is with deep sadness that I share with you the passing of Councillor Geraint Thomas, who died on Wednesday at his home. 

“Our thoughts are with Geraint’s wife and family, friends and close council colleagues as they come to terms with this sad news.

“The town has lost someone who was passionate about serving others. From his many years teaching geography in the town, to his 10 years serving his constituents as a councillor in Northgate and Ifield wards and three years as Cabinet member for Environmental Services and Sustainability, Geraint was a passionate advocate for the environment.”

A minute’s silence will observed at the next Full Council meeting on Monday 16 December. The council’s flag will be flown at half-mast on the day of the funeral.

Community

Southern Rail joins train companies extending free train travel for survivors of domestic abuse

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Govia Thameslink Railway is supporting an extended nationwide initiative to help domestic abuse victims reach refuge accommodation by offering free train travel.

Govia Thameslink Railway’s Chief Operating Officer Steve White said:

“With the numbers of survivors of domestic abuse soaring during the pandemic, charities are expecting a surge in people trying to escape to a refuge when lockdown restrictions relax. Abusers frequently withhold money, which is why the free train travel we offer as an industry is so vitally important for the hundreds of victims making use of this scheme.”

Southern Rail and its parent company Govia Thameslink are joining other train companies in extending free train travel for survivors of domestic abuse until the end of March next year.

The move comes as figures show four survivors a day, on average, have been using the scheme and reports show that abuse has worsened during coronavirus restrictions.  

Charities are bracing themselves for a surge in people fleeing abusive relationships when restrictions are lifted. The extension will help hundreds more people to take the train, for free, to reach a safe refuge.  

Rail to refuge is a joint initiative between rail companies and Women’s Aid in which train operators cover the cost of train tickets for women, men and children travelling to refuge accommodation. Since April, train operators have provided free tickets to 836 people, including 210 children. In other words, four survivors have travelled to safety each day on average using the Rail to refuge scheme. 

First introduced by Southeastern in September 2019 and then GWR on its routes in March 2020, all train operators joined the Rail to refuge scheme on 9 April with the original plan to keep it in place for approximately 12 weeks or for the duration of lockdown.  

However, with refuges expecting a spike in demand after the current national restrictions are eased, the scheme is now being extended for the rest of the financial year until the end of March 2021. This means hundreds more survivors will access free travel. 

The number of survivors of domestic abuse asking for help has soared during the pandemic. Women’s Aid reported a 41% increase in users visiting its instant messaging Live Chat site within the first two weeks of lockdown in March and as a result extended its opening hours to 10am – 4pm daily. Respect, which runs the Men’s Advice Line, has increased service hours from 46 to 75 hours weekly to support male victims, after seeing a huge increase in demand since March. 

Refuges expect to see the increase in demand across their services continue in the coming months as domestic abuse is worsening and abusers are using the pandemic as a tool for abuse. A recent Women’s Aid survey shows 61% of survivors living with their abuser reported that abuse worsened from March – June 2020, under tighter coronavirus restrictions.  

Many survivors have experienced years of economic abuse, which restricts their practical ability to escape. Free travel can be a lifeline for people fleeing abuse who may not have access to cash. Two-thirds (63%) of people that booked a journey through Rail to refuge said they would not have travelled if the journey had not been paid for. 

Nicki Norman, acting Chief Executive of Women’s Aid said: 

Women face huge barriers in leaving an abuser. Notonly is it an extremely dangerous time, but many survivors have experienced years of economic abuse, which restricts their practical ability to escape. Women tell us that they simply cannot afford to leave because the perpetrator has controlled their money and they have none of their own. Many women and children escape to a refuge with nothing at all.  

Thanks to the rail industry removing the financial barriers of travel, hundreds of women have left abusive relationships and been able to access safety. It is welcome news that this important initiative is being extended, especially as the COVID 19 pandemic continues to severely impact survivors of domestic abuse.” 

Jacqueline Starr, Chief Operating Officer at the Rail Delivery Group, said: 

“We’re proud to have provided a vital lifeline for almost a thousand people escaping a desperate situation, but there are still too many women, men and children that need help. Our staff are working hard to support the survivors of domestic abuse with free train journeys while keeping the railway running for all the people, communities and local economies that rely on it.” 

Survivors of domestic abuse who would like to access the scheme, or need other support, can get in touch with Women’s Aid through their Live Chat service, open Monday – Friday, 10:00am – 4:00pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:00am – 12:00pm: https://chat.womensaid.org.uk 

If you would like to contribute to help survivors access the lifesaving support they need and help them reach refuge, please make a donation today: www.womensaid.org.uk/rail-to-refuge (link goes live on 23 November 2020, 00.01).

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