I was delighted to attend the Gurkha Memorial Fund charity dinner at the Leas Cliff Hall last Friday night. This charity was initially set up to raise money to create the Gurkha Memorial statue, which has quickly established itself as one of the focal points of Christ Church gardens in Folkestone. The statue stands as a physical memorial to the debt of gratitude we owe to the Brigade of Gurkhas for their contribution to the British armed forces over so many years. In particular, the Memorial remembers the lives of Gurkha soldiers that were lost during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the statue also symbolises the close ties that have developed between Folkestone, and the Gurkha communities and people of Nepal. The strength of this relationship was demonstrated two years ago with the generous response from our community to the Nepal Earthquake appeal.
The Gurkha Memorial Fund charity, which is led and supported with such energy by Dhan Gurung, Ray Johnson and John Barber, is now focusing on raising money for other projects to support deprived communities in Nepal. One of these is to help equip a school classroom with computers connected to the internet, of which there is a real shortage in many rural areas of the country. This is not only an important and worthwhile project, but is symbolic as well of our desire to help develop connections between Folkestone and the Nepalese community. I would like to wish them well for the successful completion of their fundraising efforts. It is great to see that so many other local organisations, like the Town and District Councils, Royal British Legion branches, and Rotary clubs, are actively supporting this appeal.
Last week Sir Roger De Haan announced his retirement as Chairman of the Folkestone Academy school. I would like to thank Roger for his support and investment in education in Folkestone over the last decade. He leaves a legacy of rising standards and a massive improvement in facilities, which have directly benefited some of the most deprived communities in our district. There are more young people in Folkestone today, who have had the chance to reach their full potential through education than ever before. Roger De Haan is succeeded as Chair of the Academy by Professor Carl Lygo, who is also the Chairman of Turner Schools, which has been awarded the contract by the Department for Education, to deliver the successor school to Pent Valley. This new working relationship between the Academy, and the new Folkestone Free School creates a great opportunity for these institutions to work more closely together – something which could greatly benefit education in the town. Folkestone has shown that all students, regardless of their score in the Kent test, have the potential to succeed, and we should be ambitious in supporting their aspirations. Now is the right time to look to how we can work together to raise standards higher still.