West Berkshire Council

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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: Questions and Answers

Coronavirus: stay alert to save lives graphic

Coronavirus Weeknotes #19

Written on: 31-7-2020

Four months ago the most vulnerable residents across the country were advised to stay at home and wherever possible avoid coming into contact with others. Since then these residents have been shielding from coronavirus to keep themselves safe. From tomorrow (August 1) shielding will be paused and residents can go out to more places and see more people.

The pausing of shielding has left us reflecting on the fantastic work done to support the shielded over the past few months. Although this was done in collaboration with the Community Support Hub it was very much community groups who were leading the charge and making a difference. When we reflect on all that has gone on it makes us proud of the way people across West Berkshire have responded, collectively and individually.

We recently conducted a survey of around 90 groups who have been working with the Community Support Hub. Nearly nine out of ten groups were quickly formed as a direct response to the Covid-19 outbreak. The remainder coming from existing voluntary and community groups who themselves had to quickly adapt to meet local needs. Common tasks for them included collecting prescriptions, doing shopping, befriending someone who was isolated and delivering food parcels. Volunteers even got involved in things as simple as walking the dogs of people required to stay at home and they did all of these things whilst balancing their own work and family commitments.  

In a recent survey of 3,300 local residents a quarter said they had volunteered during Covid-19 and almost 80% of these intend to continue. They told us they did so for a number of reasons including wanting to do good in their community and feel more of a connection to it, because they had more time and thought it would be good for their wellbeing. We've seen the benefits of a strong community response and the challenge for us now is how we harness this effort to continue it over the coming months and years.

The Community Support Hub has been really important for us in supporting this community work and we're now looking at how we can adapt it so it is focused not only on Covid-19 but working with residents on a broader spectrum of activities. It is our intention to do this with our partners but most importantly led by our communities and our community groups. It is local residents who will know what the priorities are in their local areas and what the right solutions are, we will continue to work with them. Whatever we do next will help support them in achieving that.

For now, we want to say a huge, and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has been supporting others through shielding. Shielding is pausing, not ending, and whilst this will change what help is available to residents it's important they know help is still available. We have recently written to people who are being shielded to let them know what is happening and where they can still get help, and our Community Support Hub remains open during the week to support people in significant difficulty.

Throughout Covid-19 we've been working hard to ensure our communities know what has been going on - with shielding advice, the latest social distancing guidance as well as changes to council services. We've spoken previously about our focus on communication and engagement with residents and it was rewarding this week to hear we are one of eight councils to work with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to help develop a new 'Community Engagement Playbook.' It will provide a practical guide for other local authorities to use and we're pleased to be able to work with others to bring together this learning and for others to use.

 


Coronavirus Weeknotes #18

Written on: 24-7-2020

This week councils have been given new powers to support a rapid response to outbreaks of coronavirus.

Events in Leicester have shown us that outbreaks can and will happen and that a swift response is needed to contain the virus and protect residents. These new powers will allow us to close shops, cancel events and shut outdoor public spaces if we need to - although we hope we don't need to use the new options available to us.

In West Berkshire the number of cases is low, which is positive, but we won't be complacent and work continues in earnest on our local outbreak plan. To ensure residents know about the plan and how it affects them we will soon be delivering a leaflet to every home in the district. It explains what might happen if an outbreak occurs, how they might be affected and what they can do to help prevent an outbreak here in West Berkshire.

It's worth reflecting at this point on how some of the terminology can make a situation sound worse than it is. In government guidance cases, clusters and outbreaks are defined as follows:

  • cases refer to individual cases of COVID-19
  • clusters refer to 2 or more cases associated with a specific setting in the absence of evidence of a common exposure or link to another case
  • outbreaks refer to 2 or more confirmed cases associated with a specific setting with evidence of a common exposure or link to another case

In addition to this, you may hear talk of 'community spread.' This refers to both sporadic or linked cases and could be either limited or extensive in terms of scale. Again, there is no need to panic. If there's an issue which affects a large community we will put out messages so everyone will know what is happening.

As part of the national efforts to tackle coronavirus it becomes compulsory from today to wear face coverings in shops and supermarkets. Please do remember to take your masks with you to the shops, and if you forget please don't be offended if staff remind you to wear one. It's to keep you, them and the other shoppers safe.

Our shops have had a difficult time lately and from speaking to local business owners we know they are pleased to be open and trading again - and in many cases trading well. The use of facemasks will lead to even greater protection, on top of those measures already in place, and will give shoppers extra confidence as they go out and about from today.

Please don't let the requirement to wear facemasks put you off a visit to your local shops - we're lucky to have some fantastic businesses here in West Berkshire and they need our support.

We have been proud of the way residents have followed guidance and done the right thing in helping to keep themselves safe. We're sure it will be the same again with face coverings - we've already seen people embracing the change with the sewing machines coming out and some wonderful homemade creations on display. We look forward to seeing more when we're out and about in the next few days.

Aside from coronavirus, in last week's Weeknote an update was provided on the launch of a new 'climate change bond' to give residents the chance to invest in environmental projects across the district. It is the first scheme of its kind in the UK and the role West Berkshire Council has played in bringing in such a pioneering scheme has attracted interest from across the country. In the first week more than £300,000 has been invested in the scheme which is an excellent start and demonstrates both a confidence in, and appetite for this new scheme.

Finally, another bit of good news to share with you. We have had another £2,000 winner in the West Berkshire Lottery. It's great to hear of residents winning prizes whilst supporting local charities - in this case it was a supporter of Dingley's Promise. Since we launched the lottery last year it has raised tens of thousands of pounds for charities and good causes in the area. Now, more than ever, it has a valuable role to play with charities finding it hard to hold events and carry out face-to-face fundraising. Some of these causes have in their different ways been supporting the community response to Covid-19. If you're not already playing the lottery then why not give it a go? You might win some money but you'll definitely make a difference to the wonderful good causes we have in the area.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #17

Written on: 17-7-2020

In a week in which we've launched a new Environment Strategy, we've seen over the past few days a number of green projects come to fruition which are all helping us deliver on our priority to protect and enhance our local area.

Twelve months ago the Council declared a climate emergency and we've worked fast, and with a great deal of focus on the commitments we made. In the autumn we held a Climate Conference and welcomed 300 people to Newbury College to talk about how we could look after the wonderful district we're lucky to call home. This conference, as well as workshops, drop-in sessions and a local consultation has helped us to understand local views and priorities. These have helped shape an Environment Strategy which outlines the steps we need to take, together with our partners, to become a carbon neutral district by 2030.

It's based on five key principles; mitigation, restoration, protection, partnership and integration. In practice, it will involve improving local infrastructure, support for industry, investing in active lifestyles and working more closely with our communities. This council-community partnership is vital - we recognise that we cannot do it alone. We all have a stake in the future and we all need to play our part to tackle climate change.

The Environment Strategy, which was approved by the Executive yesterday, is an ambitious one. To give one example, we have teamed up with Abundence Investment to offer an innovative new scheme which gives residents and community groups a unique way to invest directly in a greener future for the district. Launched this week, residents will be able to invest as little as £5 in schemes which will help deliver new projects - such as solar installations - in the district. It's the first of its kind in the country and we are proud the Council is leading the way in developing such a pioneering scheme.

Abundance Investment is an ethical online crowdfunding platform and fully regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. You can find out more about the scheme here.

Also this week we have started installing solar panels on the roof of our offices at Market Street in Newbury - one of several of our buildings to have solar panels added this month. It will save the Council money and, more importantly, reduce its carbon emissions. To cap off a busy and environmentally-focused week our Highways team have started work on new schemes to encourage cycling and walking. These have been funded by a £124,000 Active Travel grant from central government and are part of the response to help the country recover from Covid-19.

It's busy but we won't be resting on our laurels and we are now putting together a delivery plan to support the Environment Strategy. All this activity is being coordinated by a new Environment Delivery Team and we look forward to seeing this developing further over the coming months.

If you want to keep in touch with our progress you can sign up to our new Environment newsletter and receive updates direct to your inbox.

This new newsletter, and others we will be launching soon, is part of a concerted effort to broaden our communication and engagement with residents and businesses, and deepen the connection between the Council and our communities. We have already started to look at a new communications and engagement strategy to take this work forward - we'll tell you more about this in a future blog. Ahead of the strategy, we are already making improvements - the newsletters being one and increased use of virtual meetings being another. Earlier this week we held our first online District Parish Conference and it was fantastic to see town and parish councillors, district councillors and community groups come together online to talk about local plans for managing Covid outbreaks and helping the district recover. Parishes close to one another spoke about different experiences and needs arising from Covid-19 and served as a reminder that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Recognising there is no one-size-fits-all approach, we have this week announced new funding for each of our parishes to support local projects linked to recovery from Covid-19. Each of our district councillors can bid for up to £1,000 towards projects in their ward and based on local need. We look forward to seeing the proposals come forward and are confident the funding will make a difference for communities across the district.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #16

Written on: 10-7-2020

Since the lockdown was eased last month we have all been adjusting to a new way of life. What was once new to us all has quickly become an everyday reality - facemasks, screens in shops and social distancing are just some of the things we have had to become used to. As we adapt, we have this week seen some of the biggest changes since the lockdown ended.

Restaurants, pubs, hairdressers and hotels are some of the businesses now allowed to open, with community centres and playgrounds also reopening. The impact of Covid-19 continues to be felt, and the Government has announced more support for businesses and communities - ranging from an Eat Out to Help Out scheme which will benefit our hospitality industry to funding for culture, heritage and the arts which we hope will reach venues in our district.

There was good news for councils too with another £500 million to provide local authorities with reimbursement for lost income and to allow longer for business rates tax deficits to be repaid. With income making up a good proportion of the Council budget and areas such as car parking impacted by Covid-19 this is welcome news and will make things a little easier for us in the coming months.

For our part, we are working to reopen our libraries soon - although this will be on a phased basis and things won't return to normal immediately. Newbury, Hungerford and Thatcham Libraries will open from Monday (13th July) for book collections during limited opening hours and under a pilot 'order and collect' service. Our 'At Home' service continues to be provided for residents unable to travel to a library and is always well received by those who rely on it for their library loans.

As well as changes to what can open, things have moved on too for people who were being shielded. After months spent at home they are now able to meet in groups of up to six people and to form support bubbles if they wish. This is undoubtedly good news for the residents affected and we don't underestimate the impact this prolonged period at home will have had on them. As shielding is relaxed, and eventually phased out, our Community Support Hub stands ready to support them if they need help or if, through track and trace, they are asked to shield themselves again.

Covid-19 has impacted daily life for all of us here in West Berkshire and we were keen to ask residents about this so that we could understand what their individual experiences have been. We ran a survey recently and were pleased to have received almost 3,300 responses from local people.

Some of the things we've been told by residents are very positive, particularly around their appetite to volunteer, help others in the community and to support local businesses on the high street. Other responses are quite worrying, particularly with a third of those surveyed reporting a fall in household income. Through our recovery work, we will look at how we can get those who have been most affected back on their feet and will offer all the support we can.

We're also very aware that some groups who are particularly vulnerable to the impact of Covid-19, such as young people and those from the BAMER community, are under-represented among the respondents and we have employed a new Equality & Diversity Officer to look at how we can engage them more effectively. We'll be running the survey regularly to understand how the impact changes over time and, when the time comes, we hope that residents will once again give us their views.

In a week in which we have seen more of our high street businesses open up, we are of course very disappointed to hear of John Lewis' decision not to re-open its At Home store in Newbury. The store has been a key part of the Parkway development since it opened in 2011 and we will be sad to see it go. We have been in contact with Parkway Shopping, which houses the store, since the announcement was made and have offered our support to them.

The list of closures includes stores across the country, including in UK's second largest city, so we don't feel that this decision is a reflection on Newbury so much as on the national, and indeed global, picture in retail. That said, as part of the recovery work we are undertaking, we will be engaging with residents and businesses about the future of the town centre and considering how we can enhance the town's offer to include more experiential destinations alongside more traditional retail outlets.

Although this is undoubtedly a blow, there is reason to be optimistic. with 85% of Parkway's tenants having re-opened and those who have are trading well. Last weekend, footfall was at 80% of pre lockdown levels, which is well above the current national average of around 60%. Thank you to everyone who has been supporting our high streets and our local businesses over the past few weeks.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #15

Written on: 2-7-2020

This is the first of our updates to be written in July. We began writing to you in March to keep you up to date with our local response to Covid-19 and at that time we had no idea that three whole calendar months would pass before we would reach this phase of our recovery. This week marks both the publication of our Local Outbreak Control Plan (LOCP) as well as one of the biggest changes to normal life in recent weeks with the relaxation of lockdown guidance to allow us to safely visit others at home and with more businesses opening their doors, albeit whilst observing social distancing.

At this point, it is important for us to reflect once again on the sacrifices our community has had to make to get to this stage. We want to thank residents and businesses across West Berkshire for their continued efforts to ensure they stay safe and play their part in keeping Covid-19 infection rates to a minimum across the district. The strain this has put on you all is clear but the ongoing benefits are beginning to be felt.

West Berkshire Council is now required, as all local authorities are, to publish a LOCP to outline how a further local outbreak and potential future restrictions would be managed. Having done this on 30 June, we want to use this week's update to share this with you.

In recent weeks, officers from across the council have been working with partners outside of the organisation, including the NHS, to develop this plan, which will be a key document for all of us in the district in the event of an unexpected further spike in local Covid-19 cases. The plan summarises how we will aim to protect our residents and communities by minimising further spread or recurrence of Covid-19 across the district. It also details the roles and responsibilities in prevention and management of the virus and how we will recognise and respond to outbreaks to prevent the further spread and recurrence of infection. Integral to the success of the plan this will be ensuring that clear communications are delivered to our community and that awareness of what the plan contains is high. Details can be found below and we would urge you to familiarise yourself with it.

info.westberks.gov.uk/coronavirus-locp

We know from what has happened with the local outbreak in Kirklees and concerns about infection rates in some large towns, such as Leicester, that a fine balance must be struck to keep West Berkshire safe. We all have a part to play in controlling the spread of Covid-19 and in the unfortunate event that a further outbreak came to our district, we will also have a role in fighting it. The best way to do this will be to ensure you receive and follow all of the guidance you need to keep yourself and others safe. We would strongly suggest that you sign up to our e-bulletin to receive timely updates regarding the local Covid-19 response: you can sign up to our e-bulletin online

This is particularly important because of the major changes to guidance which come into force this weekend. We will now be allowed to spend time indoors or outside with another household, either at home or at a pub or restaurant. When outside, we may meet up to five people from more than two households so long as social distancing guidance is followed. Not only this; but pubs, cafes, hotels and hairdressers will begin welcoming customers back. We are so proud of the resilience and creativity so many of these businesses have shown since lockdown was announced and recently, since they were given a date from when they might resume operating. We welcome them back to our towns and villages and can assure them that we stand ready to support them to re-open safely and successfully.

Just as you all are, we're looking forward to seeing loved ones for the first time in months and to supporting the local businesses we've not been able to visit in months. Every week we have thanked you for your patience and for your support in helping to bring our district to this point. We would encourage you now to enjoy these new freedoms, which have been hard-earned, and to stay safe and look after each other as we enter this new phase.