I’m always amazed to see first-hand the invaluable efforts of those in our area who work week-in, week-out to make our community the best possible place to live.

Whether they are selfless volunteers or carers going above and beyond for vulnerable people, they are motivated by a desire to help.

In turn, they help to build the kind of community that we all want to live in, and one in which we all enjoy a better quality of life.

But whilst voluntary work is commendable and always welcome, it can never replace the action we need to see from government.

Too many working age people see their lives blighted by unemployment, low pay, and ill health. Too many children don’t get the start in life they need or the education they deserve.

Social isolation and loneliness can be crippling especially for our older residents, but this scourge cuts right across society.

It’s easier than ever to communicate, especially through social media, but it doesn’t mean we are able to build deeper connections with those around us.

Years of neglect mean communities like ours have been placed under incredible strain. We’ve seen vital local services like Surestart centres closed or scaled back. They offered a lifeline for new parents and research shows the services had a major impact on children’s health, reducing hospital admissions and saving the NHS millions of pounds.

Our bus services have withered, while many much-loved shops have vanished from our high streets, severely damaging the fabric of local life.

This week I was deeply disappointed by Barclays’ announcement that they plan to opt-out of a valuable service, which allows customers to withdraw their own cash from the Post Office – a decision now set to come into effect from January 2020.

Having access to dependable everyday banking services is indispensable to many people in our communities, especially older and more vulnerable people.

At a time when high street banks and free-to-use ATMs stand increasingly at risk, I fear that Barclays’ decision could impact on the Post Office’s ability to stay viable – causing even more damage to local life.

We each have a duty, whether as individuals, businesses or government, to do all we can to strengthen our communities – yet clearly not enough is being done.

Reviving our communities, investing in local transport and services, and securing well-paid jobs must be a major priority to unlock the potential of regions like ours.

Bridget’s article was first published in the Sunderland Echo

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