IT has been another busy couple of weeks, both locally in Central Devon and within my role as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, since I returned from Japan for the G7 summit.

For a recent article on this trip (to promote British interests and discuss major international issues such as global security and climate change) please visit: .

On Friday, May 19, I visited Immersion – a Community Interest Company based in Okehampton – to learn more about its men’s mental health sessions and how it is redeveloping its kit to help people with disabilities access virtual reality.

As a treasury minister in 2018 I helped to deliver an additional £2.3 billion a year for mental health services and I regularly meet with local organisations, charities and businesses that have a particular focus on mental health.

Men are more reluctant than women to seek professional help and I was interested to see how Immersion is using its gaming sessions to break down some of these barriers.

Also in Okehampton I visited Pavilion in the Park which has recently restarted its memory café sessions.

Organised as part of Dementia Action Week (May 15-21), I met with Vicky Hopkins (befriending co-ordinator at Community Links), Ian Blythe (General Manager of OCRA) and Lynn Roddy (Home Instead).

We discussed some of the challenges around helping people with dementia, both at home and in the community, and how important it is for people to consult their GP if they are struggling with memory loss.

This could be a sign of dementia, and having a diagnosis – despite how tough it would be to hear – can help families gain a better understanding of the condition and what to expect. 

Later the same day I held a similar meeting with trustees at Age Concern in Crediton.

While our primary focus was Dementia Action Week, we also spoke about other issues affecting older people, such as the rising cost of living.

To help pensioners here in Central Devon and across the country, I recently took the decision as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to fully uprate the state pension by inflation (10.1 per cent) for the 2023-24 tax year.

This has taken the new state pension above £10,000 a year for the first time and local pensioners should now have had at least one payment on the new higher rate.

As well as holding other local meetings (including in Bow with Cllr Stuart Penny, who is on a mission to get street lighting installed from the edge of the village to the Co-op) I also spent a day recently in Gloucester, Stroud and High Wycombe, as part of my ministerial brief.

This included a visit to a Job Centre, meeting with apprentices and spending time with Men in Sheds (community spaces for men to connect, particularly those who may be isolated or lonely).

It is important for ministers to get out across the country and gain a better understanding of other communities, but as always, it’s even better to be back to Central Devon.

More from Mel at:  or follow him on Twitter @MelJStride.