West Berkshire Council

West Berkshire Council logo
Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Find information about community support and our services during the coronavirus pandemic, on our information for residents pages, our information for businesses pages, and our community support hub page which has guidance to help coordinate community organisations.

See a summary of our Local Outbreak Control Plan and read our frequently asked questions. 

West Berkshire Council Coronavirus Weeknotes

Weekly updates from Lynne Doherty (Leader of the Council) and Nick Carter (Chief Executive) on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting West Berkshire, and the council's response.

Our website also has sections on:

Information for Residents

Information for Businesses

Coronavirus: stay alert to save lives graphic

Coronavirus Weeknotes #50

Written on: 26-2-2021

With the Government's Covid-19 Response Roadmap announced earlier this week and the nationwide vaccination programme well underway, it's a relief to be seeing an end in sight for the pandemic. To bring our district back to a full operating rhythm post-Covid, we are increasing our emphasis on Recovery through both our reshaped Recovery Strategy and Council Strategy Refresh.

While there is great cause for optimism about the future, as we pen our 50th edition of these Weeknotes, we sombrely acknowledge the painful toll of the pandemic on everyone's lives and the tragic losses over the past year. We give our continued heartfelt thanks to the NHS, residents, volunteers, businesses, police and other partners, and our staff for all of the tremendous efforts to support our community throughout this incredibly difficult time.

There are still tough months ahead, so our Covid-19 Response efforts also continue at a strong pace. This includes administering further Covid business grants announced by the government for businesses required to close due to national lockdowns. We are finalising the details to share with those eligible businesses as a matter of urgency.

We know that the repercussions of the pandemic will be felt far and wide, particularly upon mental health and wellbeing. Together with Greenham Trust we have launched a joint £200,000 "Surviving to Thriving" mental health fund. This will provide grants to help community groups carry out projects to support people who have been impacted by Covid-19. The application process is now open and can be found on The Good Exchange page Start Your Registration.

We will be presenting a further update on our Covid response activity at our next public Local Outbreak Engagement Board meeting on Monday, 1 March at 6pm. The event will be streamed live on YouTube here and will available on the same link for later viewing.

In addition, Lynne and our Head of Public Health, Matt Pearce, will be holding a public Facebook Live session on Thursday, 4 March at 5pm to answer questions on our ongoing response to Covid and the easing of lockdown restrictions. Tune into our Facebook page to watch and take part.

Our broader spending and investment plans for the Council from the 2021/22 to 2023/24 financial years will be presented at our upcoming annual Budget meeting on Tuesday, 2 March at 6.30pm. The meeting can be viewed live on YouTube, or after the event, via the following link: https://www.westberks.gov.uk/fullcouncillive.

Meanwhile, in support of the Covid-19 Roadmap's Step 1 phase, as announced on Monday, we are working hard with our schools to ensure that appropriate measures and testing facilities are in place for when schools re-open on March 8th. Please note that England's stay-at-home order will remain until at least 29 March, which the Government is currently reminding the public about through a national advertising campaign.

Our four community testing sites are continuing to provide Covid-19 tests to key and critical workers who don't have coronavirus symptoms to help stop any possible virus transmissions. On our Twitter feed @WestBerkshire we posted a video showing the straightforward process of getting tested at our Highwood Copse Primary School testing site.

As of yesterday, 39,705 West Berkshire residents have received their first Covid-19 vaccination in the NHS-led programme. The NHS is now publishing weekly updates about vaccination numbers at the local authority level on their vaccination data webpage. Click on the most current document in the "Weekly Data" section and view the "Vaccinations by LTLA" tab to see the West Berkshire data.

We will continue to provide updates that we receive from NHS Berkshire West on our dedicated Covid-19 vaccinations page. There we feature news about the recently opened mass vaccination centre at Reading's Madejski Stadium, which is being run by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. Eligible individuals can book a vaccine appointment at this site or another place near them at:
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/book-coronavirus-vaccination/

At this stage, people who can book a Covid-19 vaccine appointment include those who are:

  • aged 64 or over
  • have previously received a letter saying they are at high risk from coronavirus (clinically extremely vulnerable)
  • an eligible frontline health worker
  • an eligible frontline social care worker
  • eligible for Carer's Allowance - find out more about Carer's Allowance on GOV.UK

In other news, to help improve cycling and walking opportunities for adults and children, we are inviting the community to collaborate with us on designing Active Travel schemes for West Berkshire. These schemes are intended to enhance safety, the environment, air quality and sustainability, as well as play a key role in the district's Covid Recovery. As many of us are enjoying the benefits of the great outdoors more than ever, now is the opportune time to get involved with this community planning. To learn more about the schemes and take part, please visit the Active Travel engagement platform.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #49

Written on: 19-2-2021

We congratulate the NHS and all the community volunteers involved on the very encouraging progress being made on Covid-19 vaccinations. The programme continues to accelerate, and as part of this, more high street pharmacists across the country are being invited to take part.

The NHS is now in the process of inviting the next cohort (group) of people to be vaccinated. This includes those aged over 65 and other clinically vulnerable people aged between 16 and 64 with underlying health conditions who haven't had a vaccination yet.

In order to allow clinically vulnerable people to have their vaccination at their local GP, and more quickly, patients aged 65-69 will now receive a letter asking them to take up their vaccination at a mass vaccination centre or a community pharmacy setting.

Anyone unable to book online can call 119 free of charge, anytime between 7am and 11pm seven days a week.

Adult carers are also being invited to receive their vaccine jab and if they have not yet been contacted, we ask them to please book an appointment by calling 119.

We have published further details from our NHS Berkshire West colleagues about this next wave of vaccinations on our specially-dedicated website page: https://info.westberks.gov.uk/covid-vaccination

On Tuesday the Government announced the introduction of new technology to help clinicians identify a new group of people who may be at high risk from Covid due to combined factors. The patients identified are being sent a letter from NHS England in the coming days to invite them to have a Covid-19 vaccine jab as soon as possible (if they haven't had one yet) and will be given advice on precautionary measures, including shielding. Their GP will also be notified.

Anyone receiving this letter who needs help should register with the National Shielding Support Service on: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-shielding-support. Our Community Support Hub is contacting everyone from West Berkshire who registers to make sure that they have the support they need. The Community Support Hub can also help those who need support with registering or updating their details on this site.

While the vaccination progress gives us all reason to see an end in sight to the pandemic, we still have a number of months to go before the vaccination programme is complete. We don't know what the Prime Minister will announce on 22 February regarding the national lockdown plans, but expect that many restrictions will remain in place for some time to come.

Therefore we must remain as vigilant as ever and remember to follow the "Hands. Face. Space." rules. We thank the people of West Berkshire for their support and patience so far in observing the restrictions for everyone's safety, and ask all to remain steadfast on this.

We are also heavily focused on measures to protect the public, as presented in our latest fortnightly Public Local Outbreak Engagement Board meeting held at the start of the week. You can view the full meeting on our YouTube channel.

Our Covid-secure Community Testing sites at Highwood Copse Primary School and Thatcham Rugby Club Testing are available to critical and keyworkers and those who have to travel for work or care for others. We are also now inviting the self-employed and small businesses who come into contact with the public to carry out vital work to get tested as well. The tests take under five minutes, with results texted within 30 minutes, and are for people who aren't showing any coronavirus symptoms.

The next two testing centres, Hungerford Rugby Club and Burghfield Community Sports Association, will open on Monday, 22 February. Purely as a precautionary measure, we've also developed contingency plans just in case we might need to bring community testing out directly to residents at their homes for quick testing in any particular area. As a reminder, anyone with suspected coronavirus symptoms should book a test at www.nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119.

In addition to a fantastic testing team, each community testing centre in operation has a dedicated Covid Marshall on site to help guide those receiving a test. These Marshalls are in addition to the six Covid Marshalls who started in their new roles this week to meet residents on the streets of West Berkshire to provide support and advice on the national restrictions.

Lynne was delighted to have met two of the Marshalls in person, who reported that people have been full of praise for the public protection service that they are providing to the community.

In other news, we have announced that the West Berkshire Elections for the Thames Valley Police Crime Commissioner and four By-Elections are to be held on 6 May 2021. If you haven't registered to vote or have recently moved to our district, please register at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. You can ensure that your electoral details are up to date by emailing vote@westberks.gov.uk.

 


Coronavirus Weeknotes #48

Written on: 12-2-2021

Highwood Copse Primary School finally opened its doors this week, although not quite as we had originally planned. Instead of five-year-olds excited about starting school we've seen key workers heading to the school hall for Covid-19 testing.

With the school not opening to pupils until September, it has been temporarily repurposed as a community testing centre for key workers. The idea behind this is that key workers and others in critical roles unable to stay at home can be tested twice a week in order to identify asymptomatic cases at an earlier stage. With around a third of people with Covid-19 not showing symptoms, this testing will help break the chain of transmission sooner and reduce cases in the area.

At the time of writing around 120 tests have been completed and we expect our capacity to increase as we streamline the operation, and with awareness of the facility growing. No cases of the virus have been found since testing officially began on Monday which is clearly good news. We know it's working as it should because we happened to identify a positive case when we were testing our procedures last week. That person is now self-isolating and contact tracing being undertaken to inform anyone they had been in contact with.

We are continuing to roll out our community testing programme with another centre opening at Thatcham Rugby Club on Monday, and two further facilities in the east and west of the district the week after that. We'll soon be opening testing to sole traders and are also providing testing kits to our blue light services, ensuring they can continue serving our communities whilst keeping themselves and others safe.

Community testing is being funded through a grant paid to us by the Government specifically for use on the coronavirus response. It is money we have in addition to our 'day-to-day' budget and means we can deliver our services and infrastructure projects, and respond to coronavirus, without having to compromise on one or the other.

It is also the Covid grant which is allowing us to employ Covid Marshalls for the next three months. These have been introduced in response to enquiries and concerns we have received from residents about compliance with the coronavirus restrictions. We've heard these concerns, and the marshalls will be available to help with any issues which arise as well as providing a visible reassurance to residents when they do have to go out.

The importance of the Covid-19 funding we have received cannot be underestimated. Since last spring we have used it to help fund everything from business support to laptops for pupils, and from awareness campaigns to a winter grant scheme for those most affected by the coronavirus restrictions. The Covid Winter Grant remains available to anyone in financial hardship and anyone in need over half-term in particular should apply to the fund online, or call 01365 503579.

We continue to put the money to good use and yesterday approved additional funding to support nurseries, childminders and other early years settings. Their businesses have been disrupted with more children staying at home for the time being and this has affected their cashflow. Nurseries have found the situation a difficult one but as the restrictions are lifted parents will need them again - so we need them to survive. Together they will share around a quarter of a million pounds, and we hope this will make life a little easier for them over the coming weeks. Our team will be contacting these businesses to let them know about the funding and what they need to do next.

Aside from Covid-funding our budget plans for next year were approved by the Executive yesterday evening and will now go before Council on 2 March. We've listened to residents hopes for the district in the future and the issues which are important to them and have put additional spending in a number of these areas. A good example is the environment and the ambition we share with local residents to protect and enhance our green district. We've written in previous Weeknotes about our plans for a £10m solar farm but we have other green projects we will be delivering as well. Some are obvious and perhaps others less so, but it includes everything from flood alleviation projects and electric vehicle charging points to an urban tree fund, and work to make some of our rights of way easier for less abled people to use. Putting money into this area, whilst also delivering a budget which protects our frontline services means we go into the new financial year with a good deal of optimism.

We know residents are interested in how we spend their money, and we'll be online next week to tell them more about this. On Tuesday (16th February) Councillor Ross Mackinnon, our Portfolio Holder for Finance and Executive Director Joseph Holmes will be doing a Facebook Live to provide an overview of our budget next year and to answer questions about how we spend your money. It's open to everyone, and we hope you will join us at 5pm over on our Facebook Page.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #47

Written on: 5-2-2021

Every so often someone comes along and captures the mood of the nation, and during the coronavirus pandemic we have not been found wanting for inspirational figures. Who could forget Joe Wicks helping children (and many adults!) stay fit with his online PE lessons, or Annemarie Plas getting the nation out on the doorsteps clapping for carers last summer?

One of the biggest inspirations from the past year has undoubtedly been Captain Sir Tom Moore who, at the age of 99, set off to walk a hundred lengths of his garden and raise £1,000 for health service charities. By his 100th birthday he had, incredibly, raised £32m, earning the nation's admiration and respect along the way. We were saddened to hear of his death this week, and the flag at our Market Street offices flew at half-mast on Wednesday in tribute to him.

Closer to home, we have recently announced the winners of this year's Community Champion Awards. This year we had additional categories for those people who, like Captain Sir Tom, went above and beyond in their own ways, for their own communities. We were able to say thank you to people for their amazing community spirit - such as baking cakes for people in need, making scrubs for healthcare workers and providing meals and food parcels. On top of this we had our regular awards for non-Covid community efforts which were equally incredible. Each and every one was a worthy winner and we were pleased to be able to recognise their community contributions.

A particular focus for us at this time of year is our finances as we prepare to present next year's budget to Council when it meets in March. We find ourselves in a better position than in previous years with the areas most important to us, and residents, being bolstered with additional funding. In the autumn we invited residents to take part in an online budget simulator to understand where their spending priorities were. It was an interesting exercise, and residents favoured protecting services for the most vulnerable - as well as saying how hard they found it making decisions about where to spend the money. In this year's budget we will continue to spend a large portion of our money on social care for both adults and children, as well as retaining our successful Family Safeguarding Model. We will also retain the preventative work which is crucial in helping, for example, older people to live independently and families to stay together where it is safe for them to do so. It's better for our residents, and reduces demand for our services too.

Elsewhere we are putting significant sums of money into our new environment strategy and food waste collections, and into our highways improvement programme to name but a few. Not only will this help us deliver the commitments set out in our Council Strategy but it will support the recovery as we build back better after the pandemic. We will not be increasing council tax by the maximum allowed (5%) but by 1.99% - allowing us to deliver the budget without any cuts to essential services. Together the budget will help ensure we keep West Berkshire a great place to live, work and learn.

We have been able to deliver this budget during a global pandemic in part due to the support we have received from the Government. At the start of the pandemic, it was made clear that councils would be given the funding they needed to respond to the virus. This has proved to be the case, and we have received additional funding which has helped many of our services, and in turn our communities to get through a difficult year.

A lot of the funding we have received has gone to businesses - we've both helped to distribute national funding as well as putting in our own funding to voluntarily increase how much wet-led pubs could claim - doubling how much these pubs would receive in West Berkshire.

We've gone further and acted faster than many other councils in our support for businesses having quickly recognised the impact the pandemic would have on our local economy. In March as the impact of the virus was becoming clear we made a decision locally to provide an immediate payment holiday for businesses to give them some breathing space.  As well as issuing business rate relief to a wide range of firms, we have facilitated over 60 new jobs for young people through the Kickstart scheme, implemented temporary measures in our towns to support social distancing, offered free advice to affected business owners and streamlined our own regulatory functions- such as planning and licencing- to ensure that the re-opening of local businesses could occur smoothly and safely. This work continues as we prioritise a strong local economy now and as we prepare to move forward with our recovery plans.

Financial support has been vital in helping our businesses keep ticking over when they have had to close or adjust to a change in sales. We have been paying out Additional Restrictions Grants (ARG) to businesses not covered by other grant schemes - and we have recently agreed to release even more funding for those eligible for the ARG, as well as distributing a number of other Government business grant schemes. Since the second lockdown in November, we have made around 2,550 payments totalling £6.4 million on a number of grants but which all aim to support businesses who have been affected by the coronavirus restrictions.

In addition to this, we have also paid out another £29m in Small Business Grants and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants with 2,200 local businesses benefitting from around £37.5m worth of business rates relief in 2020. All this is helping to support our local economy at a difficult time and particularly our smaller businesses, who have been especially hard hit by the restrictions in how they operate.

In this week's Weeknote we've spoken about the dual themes of community and finance and we wanted to conclude with an update on a new initiative which combines both of these. Every year we receive money from developers to help mitigate the impact of building new homes in the area. This can go, for example, towards road improvements, new playgrounds or schools. This year we have made £500,000 available to community groups to bid for money for improvements in their areas. We have just approved the bids which includes money for better playground facilities in Kintbury, the restoration of a pond in East Ilsley and a new multi-use games area in Calcot. It's an excellent opportunity for communities to get on and deliver the improvements they need and we wish them every success as they press on with their plans.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #46

Written on: 29-1-2021

Headlines this week have been dominated by news that more than 100,000 people have now died from coronavirus. It is a desperately sad situation, and yet another reminder of the risk posed by coronavirus and the need to keep working hard to eradicate it from our communities.

By now many of us will know people who have caught coronavirus and quite possibly people who have been admitted to hospital because of it. While the majority recover, not everyone does and across the district we've lost 183 people to Covid-19. Bereavements are tough, but it has been made all the harder because restrictions meant families and friends may not have been able to say their goodbyes in the way they might have hoped, or to have held the funerals in the way they expected to. We know it's been an extremely difficult time for many of our residents and we send our heartfelt condolences to anyone who has lost someone they love.

In our area, the majority passed away in hospitals and care homes which is not unexpected. It does, however, remind us of the dedication of medical staff and carers over the past few months and the emotional toil of dealing with so many people whilst they are desperately ill. We are grateful to all those people for their efforts over the past year, as well as the countless others who have played their part and supported their community throughout the pandemic.

We are in the process of setting up community testing facilities to allow some key and critical workers to have access to regular testing. It will be open to specific groups who have community-based roles and may come into contact with coronavirus. This includes blue light workers, early years providers, taxi drivers and couriers, and vets as well as some voluntary roles like foster carers. Each of these keyworkers will be invited to be tested twice a week, and they will be able to book tests online. The first site opens in mid-February at the vacant Highwood Copse Primary School in Newbury with two other sites elsewhere in the district opening soon after that. The team is working incredibly hard behind the scenes to get the site up and running quickly, because we know that together with vaccinations community testing will be our route towards living more normally again.  Please note that those eligible for testing will be contacted directly to book appointments.

The vaccination programme continues to be rolled out and we know people are anxious to receive their jab when their turn comes. However, we also know that there continues to be some misunderstandings and misinformation about the vaccinations, and particularly so online. The vaccines have been through strict approval processes to ensure they are safe, and they continue to be our best defence against the virus. We are continuing to support our colleagues in the NHS by sharing information about the vaccine and helping to dispel myths surrounding it. Next week we will be joining forces with Community United to hold an online event to challenge COVID-19 vaccines misinformation. At the event information about the vaccines will be shared, and there will be an opportunity to ask questions too. Community United are a local group working to support BAMER and other marginalised communities, and we're pleased to be working with them to deliver this event. Anyone interested in the event can sign up online.

Changes to schooling, anxiety about coronavirus and fewer opportunities to see friends mean the mental wellbeing of our children is as important as ever. Next week is Children's Mental Health Week and our education team have been busy working with schools to provide them with lots of resources to help support our young people through lockdown. As well as sharing resources, we're providing drop-in and chat sessions with mental health workers from Monday to Friday. They will be able to speak to a professional in this area to talk about how they are coping - no referral is needed. It's an important issue and we're pleased to be offering this support to our young people next week.

Elsewhere, we are busy putting the finishing touches to the Council Budget for 2021/22. We find ourselves in a better position than we have done previously and are looking to invest in some areas which are a priority for us - including our Environment Strategy. This includes £10m in next year's budget for a new solar farm near Grazeley to offset around 30% of our carbon footprint. To go ahead we need next year's budget agreed and planning permission to be granted. Needless to say it's a project we're very excited about.

We continue to receive Government funding to support our response to coronavirus. The community testing facilities, which will cost us more than £400,000 to set up and run, is one example. Another is the COVID Winter Grant Scheme, which we are also supporting with our own resources on top of funding we've received from the Government. So far, we have paid out 1,600 grants totalling £331,962 - with funding also put into free school meal vouchers during the Christmas and February school holidays too. The fund continues to be available and anyone in extreme financial hardship can apply to the fund on our website or by calling 01635 503579.