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.

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 home, protect the NHS, save lives graphic

Coronavirus Weeknotes #9

Written on: 22-5-2020

This week we have been preparing for the next phase of our response to Covid-19 as we make arrangements for the changes coming on 1 June. We know that these changes will be a source of anxiety for some so we want to reassure you that we are working with schools, businesses, parish councils and community groups to make sure they can take place safely.

Across West Berkshire, Headteachers are finalising plans to welcome more children back into schools, colleges and early years settings safely from 1 June onwards.  Each school faces individual circumstances in relation to available staff, buildings and the number of children returning.  In each case, detailed risk assessments are taking place and we are working closely with all school staff to support them and their pupils to make this process as smooth as possible for all concerned.

We have also looked closely at how retail centres can welcome shoppers and have issued a traffic order to temporarily close parts of Newbury Town Centre to traffic to assist with queuing and to allow safe walking and cycling. To further help with this, we have created posters and other resources that businesses can download to help them manage social distancing and will also be contacting our parish councils to explore whether any additional measures are required across West Berkshire. Further information can be found at: www.westberks.gov.uk/covid19-businesspack

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Taking time to mark this seems even more poignant this year as it is becoming increasingly clear that the current situation is taking its toll on many residents. Our Community Support Hub has seen an increase in requests for emotional support in the past few weeks which shows that those who have been told that they must remain at home are feeling an even greater strain on their mental health. People often find the strength to cope with a situation for the short-term, but this is not sustainable and as more time goes on it becomes more difficult to manage.

Every Mind Matters has some very useful information about how to look after your mental health and cope with the anxiety caused by the current situation. If you or someone you know is struggling, we would encourage you to take a look at this important resource, which is produced by the NHS.

Last week we mentioned our Residents' Survey, which is now live and will be available for two weeks. In the survey we ask a number of questions which range from the direct impact of Covid-19 on individuals to the local prospects of recovery. These views will be an important part of the development of our local Recovery Strategy. We have also included some questions about volunteering and the sense of 'connectedness' with the community. We are particularly keen to see the answers to these questions because we know that the Recovery Strategy is not something we will be able to deliver in isolation. We want to involve as many local people as possible in this process and we hope the survey will give us some idea of how best to do that.

If you know someone who would like to fill out the survey but cannot access the internet, please contact the team using the details on the web form and we will arrange for a copy of the survey to be posted to them.

We would like to finish our message, as we do every week, by thanking you for all you are doing to support our district at this time. Whether it's by volunteering, home schooling, supporting a neighbour or loved one or simply staying at home, we are all part of the local effort and it is this strong community that will drive our recovery.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #8

Written on: 15-5-2020

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We write to you at the end of a week which has seen a slight shift in the messaging we have all become familiar with in the previous few months as the government looks to a phased relaxation of lockdown guidance. For some, this will not change anything for the time being but for others this will mean a return to work for the first time in weeks, which brings with it new challenges.

For our part, we have been working with our partners to re-open public space car parks and Household Waste Recycling Centres and we have also been considering how to ensure that social distancing in our town centres can continue after more businesses re-open. Our Business Rates team has now distributed over £23m in Covid-19 business grants and will soon move to distributing additional funding once guidance has been received. This will enable us to support more local firms, which will be key to the district's economic recovery. Our schools colleagues are assisting our Head Teachers as they put plans in place for a safe return to school for some children and our social care staff continue to look after many of those who are most vulnerable to the virus. As the situation changes in June, July and beyond we will continue to support you all as further guidance is issued.

Last week we spoke about engagement and the work we are starting to carry out to increase this so that more residents and businesses are involved in the work we do. One of the things that will help us to do this is an online survey, which we will launch next week. The questions it contains will range from how they feel about the social, environmental and economic impact of Covid-19 to the interaction that they have had with our own services throughout the current situation. We want to make sure that the response to this is as widespread as possible and that it is a barometer of how local people have been affected by the virus and how they feel about the future. We will give details of how to access the survey next week and would appreciate your help in sharing it with family, neighbours in friends across West Berkshire.

The VE Day commemorations on 8 May, including the national singalong to 'We'll Meet Again', will have resonated in ways that none of us could have contemplated even as recently as two months ago. Reflecting on the end of a difficult period in our nation's history at a time when the majority of us are separated from loved ones and are unsure what the future holds made the occasion particularly poignant. On the West Berkshire Council crest is the phrase 'Forward Together'. Many of you will have never noticed this before or thought about what relevance it might have to the work we do as a local authority. The phrase has its origins in speech made in 1940 by then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, in which he reflected on the need to collectively work with each other towards a common goal. The challenge we face now is significantly different to that faced at the outbreak of World War II but the need to pull together rings as true now as it did then.

As work on our local recovery gathers pace, we will make sure that 'Forward Together' is central to our thinking and that our planning and decision-making reflects the views and needs of those we serve. Not only this, but we will seek to bring those groups and individuals who have been so integral to our local response to Covid-19 into the recovery process so that the networks and contacts we have all valued and relied upon in recent months strengthen our community for the future.

Next week marks Mental Health Awareness Week. We will focus on this issue in our update next Friday as it is something that will have touched most of us in some way. Our Public Health Team has been busy preparing resources to help those who are finding the current situation particularly difficult and we look forward to sharing them with you in the coming week.

As we say every week, we sincerely thank you all for your efforts, whether they have been through working directly on the response, supporting your neighbours or simply by staying at home unless going out is absolutely necessary. You have all made a difference in your own way and we are grateful to every one of you.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #7

Written on: 11-5-2020

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We have been updating you each week on the ongoing local situation with regards to PPE, testing and our capacity to meet local demand. At present, this remains stable and we are able to do so, although we will update you if this changes.

Sadly, there have been a number of deaths in our care homes and we would wish to send on our sincere condolences to those who have lost a loved one. Our social care staff continue to do all they can to keep residents safe and we want to reassure you that West Berkshire Council and our health and social care colleagues are well-prepared to support the community. We also continue to offer support through our Community Support Hub, which is likely to be the case for some time yet as we support those who are particularly vulnerable at this time.

As social distancing guidance is reviewed, this is likely to have an impact on the services we provide, from our Recycling Centres and schools to libraries and leisure centres. You may also have heard that we will be receiving additional funding from the Government to support local businesses. Details of this are not yet available so we would encourage you to sign up to our weekly newsletter which will provide up to date information about the status of these services. This can be done here:

www.westberks.gov.uk/ebulletinsubscribe

The theme of this week's letter is recovery and engagement. We know that for some of you, but by no means all, recovery seems like a distant concept. Some of you will have been directly impacted through the loss of a loved one, others will find that their mental health has suffered as result of prolonged social distancing while many will have found home schooling has made home life more challenging than before.

As we write, the Market Street development adjacent to our offices has resumed, albeit it whilst adhering to very strict social distancing measures. It is a visual representation of what we will all have to do in the coming weeks, months and years: planning for the future whilst adapting to our changing present. We mentioned to you in our last letter that we have been trying to further develop community networks in recent years and it is becoming increasingly clear that this situation has accelerated this more significantly than we could have imagined. If our local recovery is to be successful, this must become a lasting legacy of this situation.

For our part, officers across the authority will be meeting - via Zoom - to discuss what a local recovery plan will look like. Top of the agenda is likely to be how we can better engage our residents, businesses and stakeholders in this process so that we can ensure our plan is inclusive and represents the real impact of Covid-19 on our community. We have been looking at three forms of engagement when considering how we might do this: informing, consulting and involving.

In the past few months, we have developed the 'informing' part of this significantly and the level of communications activity we are producing has increased. From leaflets and newsletters, to graphics and videos to a new advice bot on our website, we have worked hard to make important information accessible in a variety of ways. We will continue much of this as it has been valued and has assisted many as they support others in the community.

In terms of 'consultation', we will be developing a community survey shortly which will be a useful barometer of public feeling and confidence in our resilience at a local level. We will also look to host online sessions with local groups to get their views directly and do all we can to include input from those who are not usually represented among those who respond to our consultations.

As for 'involving', this is already well underway as a result of this situation. We are exploring a number of ways to keep this going so that the involvement of community groups, individuals and parish and town councils in the immediate response can be extended into the recovery period and beyond. We are all proud of the way in which West Berkshire has responded to this emergency and we know that many of you will look forward to joining us in these efforts.

Finally, this Friday is VE Day; an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the end of a very difficult period for our country. We are sure many of you were looking to marking this occasion with your loved ones but that this is no longer possible due to our need to continue with social distancing. Thank you all once again for your support with this and for staying at home to protect others.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #6

Written on: 1-5-2020

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Before moving on to discuss this week's note, we would first like to update you on the ongoing situation in West Berkshire.

Our Community Support Hub (CSH) continues to operate well and we are beginning to look at how this might be woven into our business as usual activities. Although requests for help have plateaued, it is likely that the CSH will need to remain in some form for the foreseeable future in order to help vulnerable residents who may still need to self-isolate.

We remain confident that we have enough PPE stock to meet the district's needs as we have received a delivery of equipment. We will continue to do all we can to sustain availability for those who need it. The government are rapidly increasing testing capacity across the country. We are therefore working alongside our partners to enable key workers, over 65s and anyone who is unable to work from home to access testing within 72 hours of experiencing symptoms. This includes the testing of household members of key workers who are symptomatic.

We have now received an additional £4.3m from government to support our response to Covid-19. This is likely to be used in the main to support our social care services, where demand will increase as a result of the current situation, and for other services where income has decreased. We are reviewing our budgetary situation regularly and can again reassure you that we remain in a position to continue to deliver the services residents need at this time.

We continue to work hard to distribute government grants to eligible local businesses and we are pleased that this is going well. We have been made aware that the eligibility criteria for these grants has meant that some local companies remain in need of support. We were grateful to see, following input from local authorities and businesses, that the previously announced Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans (CBILS) were made more accessible but we have also this week made further representations to government on how the criteria for grants might be amended to meet the needs of West Berkshire's economy.

As you all adapt to a new way of life, we too are looking to work differently to maintain services for residents. As part of this, we had our first virtual public meetings in the past week and we are pleased to say that these have been well-received. Many of the changes we have brought into place, including those made to our IT arrangements to enable officers more effectively to work at home, will have an impact long after the current situation has passed and we look forward to delivering our corporate priorities and engaging with residents in a more agile way in the future as a result.

For this week's update, we want to focus on our community. We have long said that our strong, resilient communities are a huge part of what makes West Berkshire a great place to live and work. In recent months, and as part of the work we have been undertaking on our Council Strategy, we have been putting a lot of thought into how we can engage more closely with our communities and support our parish and town councils to deliver services to residents.

This week, both of us have spent time in our Community Support Hub and with volunteers who are serving their communities. We have seen examples of the different ways that each town, parish and group is coordinating this and tailoring it to the specific needs of the individuals they are helping. From groups operating remotely via WhatsApp and Zoom to town halls to newly repurposed living rooms in the homes of volunteers, every area has quickly developed a model that works for them.

You may be interested to know that we have launched a new webpage to celebrate the work being down by groups and individuals. It may seem that there is precious little good news at the moment so we hope to grow this into a lasting record of the strong community response we have seen locally. You can view this and find out how to submit content for the page here: www.westberks.gov.uk/localheroes

Late last year we invited local government colleagues from other parts of the country into West Berkshire to help us review our performance as a local authority. Among other things, these colleagues looked at how we were communicating with our residents and businesses and they identified a need to further enhance this engagement to build a stronger sense of place and belonging in the district. The current situation has seen this come into its own, with voluntary groups and town and parish councils from across the district coming together unprompted and working alongside us as we respond to this public health emergency.

The groups that have grown and emerged as part of our Covid-19 response have made our local networks stronger and this will have a lasting impact. We have been so proud to see this work happening spontaneously and feel that it is a strong foundation on which to build for the future. As with much of what is likely to happen in the immediate future, we cannot be sure what form this work will take but we can say that maintaining these newly establishment links will remain at the forefront of our recovery work.

Just as you all are, we are unsure as to when life will return to normal and if, indeed, it ever will in light of the lasting impact of the virus on all of us. As we mentioned last week, we have started to work on a recovery plan for our district. This plan will be vital as we support residents and businesses to adapt to changes to our way of life and to rebuild what may have been lost. In order for this to be effective, we must ensure that everyone has the opportunity to become involved, whether through enhanced engagement and consultation or through directly participating in the delivery of the plan. We will share more about how we intend to do this in the coming weeks and months but for now we would like to say this is something we look forward to working on with our communities.

As always, we finish this week's update by wishing you and your families well. Please stay healthy and stay at home for it is this that will help to protect you, your community and your public services.


Coronavirus Weeknotes #5

Written on: 27-4-2020

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Good afternoon,

Last week we thanked the people in the community who are going above and beyond to help others in need. It is clear from the wonderful feedback we are receiving about the work done by residents, staff and community groups that this is making a huge difference. Our strong community here in West Berkshire is key to our response so once again - thank you.

We would first like to take the opportunity to offer you all some reassurance about our local response to Covid-19. As you will all know, there continues to be a high number of deaths from the virus each week. Locally, we have seen West Berkshire residents affected, including residents in our own care homes. There have been deaths and we would wish to pass on our sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of those who have suffered a loss. This is a worrying time for us all, so it is important that we let you know that West Berkshire Council and our colleagues in the NHS are well-prepared to support the community.

We have received financial support from central government to help us coordinate our local response to the current situation. Very early on, we were given over £3m in funding, the majority of which we have used to fund Covid-19 related pressures in social care. We also used some of this to set up our new Community Support Hub (CSH), ahead of the enhanced social distancing arrangements that came into place on 23rd March. Through it we have already helped almost 90 community groups to support hundreds of vulnerable local people across the district.

In addition to this money, we have been provided with up-front grant payments to support cash flow, a Council Tax Hardship Fund, additional funding for the cost of providing support to rough sleepers and those as risk of rough sleeping during this time, and £29m to support eligible local businesses, of which more later. Please rest assured that while we respond to Covid-19 we are also continuing to focus on the delivery of the other services that the community needs.

The safety of those working on the front line in our communities is at the forefront of many of our minds, which is made clear at 8pm every Thursday when we clap for our carers and keyworkers. We can confirm that front line colleagues, including in our care homes, GP surgeries and at the West Berkshire Community Hospital, have the personal protective equipment (PPE) that they need as we are receiving regular deliveries of what they need to keep themselves safe. We are in a position to offer testing to key workers, which will help to protect them and the community they serve.

In a similar vein, we can assure you that our local hospitals, testing facilities, surgeries and the new Primary Care Hub at Newbury Racecourse are coping with the demand placed upon them. If you are in need of medical attention, please call 111 or visit the NHS 111 online service to seek the help you need, unless it is an emergency, in which case you should call 999.

We understand from our colleagues in the NHS that there is a concern that A&E visits have fallen significantly since the coronavirus outbreak. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has placed some very useful information about this subject on its website. To be clear, if you need to visit A&E, please do so as you could be putting your health at risk if you do not.

Our local economy has historically been very strong and we know that this situation has hit many businesses hard, with some unable to trade and others having to furlough staff. We are working hard to distribute the £29m grant received from government to support small businesses and have already, as of 23 April, sent out £13.5m of this to 1040 local firms. We will continue to distribute grants over the next week. We have taken a decision, as we did in April and in addition to the support announced by central government, to defer all business rate payments in May in order to assist with cash flow. We hope this support will go some way towards helping those who are struggling at this time.

In this week's letter, we also feel that it is important to focus on what is available to anyone who is struggling to cope with social distancing. It has been over a month now since the new guidance emerged and we know that it is taking its toll on many of us. Our Public Health Team has put together a great deal of information on our website about what to do if you are finding times particularly difficult, much of which comes from mental health specialists. This ranges from what do to if you can't sleep to how to look after your own mental health or support someone who is drinking more alcohol.

Many of us have had to adapt to a new way of working due to social distancing. For some of us, this hasn't been difficult whereas for others, particularly those with small children, this is very challenging. Our Public Health and Communications Teams have worked together to publish a guide for those who are new to working at home. In this guide, we provide links to mental health services, learning resources for children and tips on healthy workstations, among other things. We hope this is useful to many of you. 

The impact of the current situation is not only felt by adults in the community as we know many young people will be feeling it too. Our Emotional Health Academy has launched a helpline specifically for young people who are experiencing emotional difficulties as a result of the current situation. This is in additional to the statutory support we have in place to safeguard our most vulnerable children. This service can be reached on 01635 503587.

As we say every week, we hope you and your families are safe and well at this difficult time. You will have seen that the government is unlikely to ease social distancing guidance for some weeks yet, which will be challenging for us all. We are grateful to you, as always, for doing your bit to keep our community safe.