I never cease to be amazed by the number of inspiring projects led by inspiring people across this beautiful corner of the world.

The Vision of Hope charity at Gilwern certainly ranks as one of these. For over 5 years now the farm has provided animal-assisted therapy to help aid the rehabilitation of young people who have suffered through abuse and addiction.

Vision of Hope is a fantastic example of what can be achieved when the circle is broken and people who have suffered abuse are given a chance to learn new skills in a caring environment. Hopefully we can all learn something from charities like this.

I also recently saw first-hand the key role that volunteers play in helping with the smooth running of Monmouth’s historic Savoy Theatre, when I was invited to take part in a fire drill to test the venue’s fire procedures.

Passing residents were left bemused by the evacuation of the building early one Sunday morning and the arrival of five fire engines and fire crews from neighbouring stations in Wales and Herefordshire.The auditorium soon became unrecognisable as it quickly filled with fake smoke (which seemed surprisingly realistic to me) but I’m pleased to say we all managed to reach the safety of the adjacent St Mary’s churchyard unscathed.

It was an eye-opening experience which left us all the more aware of the dangers posed by fires in public buildings and also appreciative of the professionalism of our emergency services. Keep up the great work, all of you.

Great work has also been done over recent weeks by shop and business owners in the town who have helped collect over 5,000 signatures as part of a petition against the huge hikes in business rates caused by the recent revaluation. It’s clear that these hikes are simply unaffordable for many smaller, independent retailers and risk turning the centre of towns like Monmouth and Abergavenny into ghost towns if nothing is done.

Can I urge any businesses concerned by the scale of their revaluation to appeal the decision with the Valuation Office. Meanwhile I will continue to make the case for a far more generous system of business rates relief from the Welsh Government, at least equitable with that across the border in England.

Small businesses are the beating heart of our local economy which must be protected.