Councils and COVID-19: The Response Edition #9

May 21, 2020   By Charlotte Morgan, Senior Policy Researcher, NLGN

18/5/20 – 22/5/20

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

Kingston Council, working with the GoodGym and residents, established the ‘Street Champs’ initiative to enable people to drop off food donations to secure, designated locations close to their homes. Kingston now has over 100 resident Street Champs, who have helped raise huge amounts of food for people in need as well as volunteering their homes as donation drop-off points. Supplies are then collected and delivered to food banks across Kingston.

Southwark Council
is working with O2 and environmental charity Hubbub to encourage people to donate old or unused smartphones to digitally disconnected members of the community. The trial will initially see 800 refurbished smartphones and Pay as you Go SIM cards distributed to ‘digitally excluded’ people in Southwark. Once complete, O2 and Hubbub will share the learnings from the trial to help inform recycling and re-use initiatives in other cities.

Lancashire County Council encouraged members of the public to send a card to a local care home to help residents feel less lonely as part of #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. Wokingham Borough Council also asked children to write letters or draw pictures for self-isolating residents, which were delivered as part of goody bags and food parcels.

Bradford Council’s
Arts and Culture Department is funding a project by Liberty Arts Yorkshire called ‘Theatre in a Box’. The project will see interactive, creative puppet theatre packs delivered to isolated, vulnerable and low-income families in Bradford.

Wigan Council is running carefully managed activity sessions for children in care to take some pressure off existing foster carers struggling with the challenges of lockdown. The daily sessions take place in a building owned by a local charity for young people and are carefully prepared so that up to 14 children travel there in small groups and only take part in one-to-one or sibling group activities with youth workers. If successful, the council would like to extend the offer to other families who might be struggling.

Supporting key workers and community groups

St Albans District Council is working with The Counselling Foundation to launch a new free helpline for staff and volunteers of community groups playing an active role in the local response to COVID-19. Staffed by trained counsellors, the helpline will provide a confidential space where volunteers can share their experience of helping others and the emotional pressures they face. The helpline will also offer practical information to enable callers to continue their work supporting local communities.

Kent County Council’s Adult Education Department launched a range of free sewing workshops to help people make protective clothing for healthcare workers. Workshops are free and run by specialist tutors, who are able send out a free resource pack of fabric, pattern and instructions for those who have started or want to make more than one set. They are also supplying fabric to relevant Facebook groups to distribute to their members as orders come in from each hospital.

Support for businesses

Durham County Council set up an online directory of local traders that would have exhibited at the cancelled Seaham Food Festival and encouraged residents to place orders with them to host their own small food festival at home. Some of the traders are offering special deals for what would have been the event weekend, including one local bakery that is offering 10 per cent off for members of the emergency services and special gift boxes for key workers.

West Lindsey District Council
launched a new campaign, ‘Think Local’, to raise awareness of local businesses that are still trading in lockdown and encourage residents to support them.

Self-isolation activities

Warwickshire County Council introduced an online booking system for some of its countryside car parks to limit the number of visitors and thereby help maintain safe social distancing. People will not be able to use the car parks unless they have a pre-booked ticket or a valid permit displayed through their vehicle’s window.

Haringey Council’s Adult Learning Service is running all its courses online and free of charge until July 2020 to help residents keep their minds active in lockdown.

Richmond Council is working with Richmond Talking Newspaper to produce a series of virtual bedtime stories for children during lockdown.

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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