Councils and COVID-19: The Response Edition #8

May 15, 2020   By Charlotte Morgan, Senior Policy Researcher, NLGN

11/5/20 – 15/5/20

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

Fifteen local authorities across the Yorkshire and Humber region have formed a new partnership, ‘Relationship Matters’, to help families who are experiencing relationship difficulties during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Relationship Matters website offers information and tips to help families recognise the signs of conflict, work out what they need to do next, and identify which organisations they can contact if further support is required.

Cambridgeshire County Council and partner organisations launched a ‘Now We’re Talking’ mental health campaign to help residents cope with loneliness and access support during the COVID-19 outbreak. Its Wellbeing Plan encourages people to fill in eight boxes, with headings such as ‘things I can do to relax and calm myself down’ and ‘fun activities I can do’, to help them think about everyday activities that lift their spirits.

Lewisham Council and Birmingham City Council are joining forces to undertake a review on health inequalities within Black African and Caribbean communities in Lewisham and Birmingham. The review was prompted by the impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities, but will also examine health inequalities faced by Black African and Caribbean people more broadly and develop an evidence-led approach to addressing the issue.

Adur and Worthing Councils are making innovative use of digital technology to coordinate community support and gather data to inform their response to the pandemic. For example, as the most common request for support involves accessing food, the councils put together information to make residents aware of local businesses offering food deliveries and have developed emergency food parcels for people struggling with access to money.

Wandsworth Council worked in partnership with the Battersea Power Station Foundation to deliver a new voucher scheme to help pupils in digital poverty continue their education at home. With a £10,000 grant from the Foundation, the council distributed emergency phone data top-up vouchers so that families in need could download schoolwork and stay connected to teachers. The council is also leading a ‘Power to Connect’ campaign, calling on local businesses and residents to donate old working laptops that can be passed on to local families without a computer at home and to hospital patients struggling to stay in touch with loved ones.

Supporting key workers and community groups

Essex County Council’s International Trade team made use of the council’s strong, 30-year relationship with colleagues from Jiangsu Province in China to negotiate the procurement of 200,000 protective face masks for Essex and neighbouring counties. The council is also making its Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) sourcing service available free-of-charge to other councils across the country during the outbreak, helping them to identify suppliers, perform due diligence and liaise on prices and minimum orders, before they purchase the equipment themselves.

Stockport Council and partners launched a new campaign and fundraising website to #KeepStockportCaring. The campaign asks for people to volunteer their time, donate money and/or give goods to food banks to support local community organisations and charities, many of which have seen an unprecedented rise in demand for their services but are also experiencing a significant drop in revenue and loss of volunteers to self-isolation.

Blackpool Council set up a new ‘HUB’ to serve as a ‘single point of contact’ for social care providers seeking advice and guidance during the pandemic. So far, the ‘HUB’ has supported providers with sourcing and delivering PPE, matched offers of help from providers with others who needed extra staff, and provided cooks and cleaners on a rota from the council’s catering staff to where assistance is needed. The ‘HUB’ will also proactively contact providers on a daily basis as part of a ‘Provider Welfare Check’ to offer support in these very demanding times.

Informing communities

Doncaster Council received plaudits for explaining the Government’s latest COVID-19 guidance for England clearly, and humorously, on Twitter.

Barking and Dagenham Council reached out to well-known figures in the borough to help make residents aware of social distancing guidance. Current and former footballers, an X-Factor winner and a Dagenham-born crime writer have recorded a series of short videos for the council’s website and social media pages. Their voices are also being broadcast live from council vehicles driving around the streets with loudspeakers.

Support for businesses

Gateshead Council opened a new online Employment and Skills Hub to offer advice and one-to-one support for people who are in work, have been recently furloughed or are looking for a job.

Self-isolation activities

Hounslow Council developed a new initiative in partnership with Brentford FC Community Sports Trust that will see 600 free activity packs delivered to children and young people across eight housing estates in the next couple of weeks. The packs, which include a foam football and other physical activity resources, were created to replace the free weekly sports and youth activity sessions organised by the council and the Trust before lockdown.

Wandsworth Council launched Wandsworth Arts Fringe 2020 online as ‘WAF in Your Living Room’. WAF artists have developed a new artistic programme for people to enjoy from home, including stories and activities for children, live music, a live-streamed love-theme gameshow, drawing classes, and workshops in the Japanese martial art practice of Kenbu Tenshin Ryu.

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

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