Councils and COVID-19: The Response Edition #4

April 17, 2020  |  By Charlotte Morgan, Senior Policy Researcher, NLGN

Durham County Council’s Clean and Green Team used surplus flowers to create two colourful roadside floral displays as a tribute to the NHS.

Local authorities are indispensable in our current crisis and are therefore under enormous pressure. They manage the public services that people are increasingly reliant on, support the most vulnerable people in our communities, and hold information that keeps local people safe and informed. In this time of great uncertainty, councils are taking new, radical and innovative steps to deal with the crisis and protect their residents. We’re compiling some here and will update it weekly.

If you would like to share examples of how your local authority is responding to COVID-19, please write to Charlotte Morgan – cmorgan@newlocal.org.uk/ @cmorgan_9.

Supporting residents in need

Essex County Council commissioned a new service, ‘Stay Connected’, to help vulnerable adults stay physically and mentally active during the COVID-19 outbreak. The service involves occupational therapists and sport coaches delivering telephone sessions for people with learning disabilities, autism, mental health issues, dementia, physical impairment and other complex health needs. Users will receive a highly personalised home workout video.

Stockport Council and Stockport NHS Clinical Commissioning Group launched three new services to support residents’ emotional health and wellbeing. The services include: an Emotional Wellbeing Hub for anyone up to the age of 25; a 24/7 mental health helpline and (currently virtual) safe haven for adults; and a 24/7 digital service that offers support from peers as well as trained clinicians. The services will be in place all year round, not just during the current lockdown.

Bradford Council, working with the poet Lemn Sissay’s Christmas Dinner charity, is providing treat bags to 290 young care leavers in the district to help them cope with the challenges of loneliness and isolation during the lockdown. The treat bags include high-quality items such as craft accessories, sweets, toiletries and an Amazon gift card with a free month’s Netflix subscription.

Supporting key workers

Gateshead Council library staff are printing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for key workers while library buildings are closed. They have sent nearly 200 3D-printed safety visors to key workers so far (as of 15th April) and have started laser-cutting visors too with materials provided by local businesses.

Durham County Council’s Clean and Green Team used surplus flowers from their winter stock to create two colourful roadside floral displays as a tribute to the NHS. Oliver Sherratt, the council’s Head of Environment, said: “the displays are also helping to spread some cheer locally and we’ve received some lovely feedback from those residents who are still travelling for essential purposes, whose journeys the flowers brighten.”

Cycle Derby, which is run by Derby City Council, made 30 bicycles available to loan to key workers for free. Leicester City Council worked with local organisations to launch a similar scheme – Leicester Bike Aid – which makes bicycles available on indefinite free loan to key workers and offers free bike checks to those who already cycle to and from work.

Additional funding

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council awarded up to £200,000 to Basingstoke Voluntary Action (BVA) to help them continue co-ordinating the work of COVID-19 community groups. The funding will also allow BVA to provide grants to community groups seeking to purchase and distribute food for residents in self-isolation, supply protective equipment to volunteers, and ensure community hubs across the borough can stay open.

Lancashire County Council contributed £170,000 (on behalf of the county and district councils) to the Lancashire COVID-19 Community Support Fund. The fund, which is being managed by the Community Foundation for Lancashire, will award grants to support community organisations providing vital services such as food distribution, mental health support and financial advice. Over £512,000 has already been secured to bolster the fund.

Informing residents

Newcastle City Council joined TikTok (a social media app popular with young people) to share public health messages and promote the city.

Redbridge Council set up a new chatbot on its website to help residents find relevant information on COVID-19 quickly.

Support for businesses

Southwark Council launched a £2 million hardship fund for small businesses that are struggling because of the COVID-19 outbreak but do not qualify for national government schemes. Under Southwark’s Business Hardship Fund, grants of up to £2,500, £5,000 or £10,000 will be available to eligible businesses, depending on the size of the business and level of need.

Self-isolation activities

Hounslow Council announced that all Hounslow Library cardholders will receive access to Ancestry UK free of charge until 30th April so that they can research their family tree.

Responding to requests from residents, Southwark Council painted markers in the area’s parks to help people practise social distancing while exercising.

We will be continuing to update these examples weekly. Please write to Charlotte Morgan – cmorgan@newlocal.org.uk to submit your own.