ABOUT 16 years ago, well before I became an MP, I used to visit local schools and talk to pupils about the environment and the need to recycle and look after our planet.

It has always been a subject dear to my heart and instilling those messages in our young people at an early age hopefully leads them to take the issue seriously as they get older.

I probably spoke to between 600 and 800 pupils and enjoyed every minute. I took this mission to Westminster, helping to steer a major energy bill through the House of Commons in 2013 that introduced strict emissions targets which have helped to reduce UK carbon emissions significantly over the past nine years.

I was involved with Climate Assembly UK throughout 2020 and led a major parliamentary inquiry during 2020-21 into the decarbonisation of the UK economy and green finance. At the end of 2021 I attended COP26 in Glasgow.

Since becoming an MP I have visited most, if not all, of the 46 primary and secondary schools in Central Devon, visiting many 3 or 4 times.

Last week I visited The Duchy School in Bradninch and next week I am visiting Chagford. Others I have spent time with this year include Hatherleigh, Dunsford and Newton St Cyres.

The sole focus of these visits hasn’t been the environment (although I usually discuss it at some point), but British values and how Parliament works in practice.

We should never take our democracy for granted – peaceful transitions of power still do not occur in many parts of the world and the democratic values of tolerance, justice, fairness, and freedom of speech should be cherished.

Key to this is connecting young people with Parliament, explaining how Westminster functions, and underscoring the message that we all have a role to play in our democracy, whether by championing an issue we care about or by casting our vote.

Local teachers here in Central Devon do an excellent job in teaching their pupils about Parliament and I have supported many by welcoming them to Westminster.

More than 500 local pupils have now made the trip to London, including from Ashburton, Ide, Dunsford, Stoke Canon and Bickleigh Primaries. Usually it is pupils from Year 5 and 6, and some schools have made several visits.

The day typically includes spending time at Parliament’s world-class Education Centre and then touring the Houses of Parliament. I am always keen to join the pupils for a Q&A and I hope that talking to me provides a tangible link back to communities here in Central Devon.

A travel subsidy is available to state schools which could cover up to 75% of travel costs and more information can be found at www.melstridemp.com/visitwestminster.

This weekend was Small Business Saturday – a great initiative to encourage people to shop locally.

For more information about the campaign and how I’ve been promoting it locally this year visit www.melstridemp.com/smallbizsat22