After a busy fortnight in Westminster, with colleagues whittling down Conservative Party leadership candidates to the final two, it was great to be back in Central Devon last week.

My local meetings included a visit to the Oxenham Arms Hotel in South Zeal on Thursday to meet Iryna Klymovych, a Ukrainian refugee who has been welcomed to Okehampton along with her two children. Iryna’s husband is still back in Kiev and he stays in touch with the three of them over the internet.

As the proud father of three daughters myself, I cannot imagine being separated from them and I remain as determined as ever that the Putin regime must have the maximum amount of economic and diplomatic pressure put upon it to change course. The UK was the first to supply Ukraine with military aid and we must continue to do so.

I am delighted that Iryna has settled here in Central Devon through the Government’s refugee programme and that her two children have been attending a local school.

The Oxenham Arms organised a Ukrainian language UK Environmental Health Food Hygiene course for Iryna – a course she passed with full marks – and she is now working part-time in the hotel’s commercial kitchen.

It was my privilege to award Iryna with her certificate and listen to her story.

It was also useful to speak with the owners of the hotel, Simon and Lyn Powell, about their experience of arranging the course. I hope other businesses, particularly those in the hospitality sector keen to secure new staff, may be inspired by this success story.

From West Devon it was down to Teignbridge, and to the Papillon Gin Distillery in Moretonhampstead to meet owners Claire and Adam Hyne. It was great to hear about their exciting plans to grow the business and to discuss some of the issues facing the industry.

I was very proud to receive an award from the National Association of Cider Makers recently for my efforts to champion the local cider industry, and my support certainly extends to the wider drinks industry.

Among the issues we discussed was the recent Government consultation on alcohol duty. As EU members there was harmonisation of duty but following Brexit we have the opportunity to create a simpler system that gives the industry a real boost.

I certainly feel there are disparities between the duties for beer, cider, wine and spirits that could be improved upon.

We also touched on the availability of commercial property space within Dartmoor National Park, which is vital if we are to grow our local economy and create jobs within the park.

On Friday my meetings included a visit to Christow Primary School to see the new Foundation Stage Unit that is being built on the site of the old pre-school.

It will open in September and will improve the excellent Early Years provision at the school even further.

More from Mel at or on twitter @MelJStride.