Today marks a year since England went into its first lockdown. Along with the rest of the country, the Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire district councils have been reflecting on what has been a challenging year.
Just over a year ago the councils acted early by asking the majority of its staff to work from home a week ahead of the national lockdown. Within days they had launched a brand-new Community Hub which immediately began identifying and working with charities and voluntary groups across the districts to help those most in need. From coordinating prescription collections to arranging emergency food parcels the district councils and their network of community groups were at the forefront of the local Covid-19 response.
Throughout the pandemic, the councils have stayed in touch with those most at risk from the virus. So far, calling over 27,233 vulnerable and shielded residents to check they’re ok and to offer support. Officers have also been making socially distanced doorstep visits to residents they’ve been unable to reach by phone.
The pandemic has had an enormous impact on local businesses, so a significant amount of officer time has been dedicated to administering and processing a wide variety of grants amounting to more than £65 million to businesses across both districts.
As well as dedicating significant officer resource to the cause both councils have also made its buildings available. Since Cornerstone Arts Centre closed its doors to the public in March last year, it has been home to the council’s food distribution service, helping to ensure hundreds of families received urgent food parcels when they had nowhere else to turn. In February this year, The Beacon in Wantage opened as a Covid-19 testing site for public-facing workers and volunteers who are not displaying symptoms. This will remain available to those who need it for a long as is required.
The impact of the pandemic on residents and businesses has been significant, and the councils’ Covid-19 response work and the subsequent recovery periods will remain a huge focus for years to come. Both councils have committed to this in their Corporate Plans.
The council leaders have sent a personal message out to residents, community groups and businesses looking back at the challenges everyone’s faced together and thanking them for their relentless support in helping their communities, particularly those most vulnerable and for following the necessary measures to protect others.
Staff and all councillors will be reflecting on the impact of the past year and the lives sadly lost in our districts with a minute’s silence at midday on the 23 March as part of the national day of reflection to mark the anniversary. The union flag will fly at half-mast at its offices too.
Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of Vale of White Horse said: “I’ve been overwhelmed by the way in which our communities in the Vale have come together to help those most in need, Not just by looking out for their vulnerable neighbours, but also by supporting our local businesses as much as they can through the pandemic”.
“I am pleased that we have been able provide one of three symptom-free testing sites in Oxfordshire at The Beacon. This is invaluable as part of the fight against Covid-19 and our team there and those across all of our departments have worked incredibly hard to make sure that our response to the pandemic has been at the forefront of residents and business’s needs”
Cllr Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire said: “It’s been a challenging year for many of our residents and businesses. My thoughts are with all those who have lost a loved one. I am proud of the way that our communities have come together, and my thanks go to the hard work of the volunteers and our council teams that helped those most in need across the district”.
“During these hard times many have discovered the beautiful areas of South Oxfordshire on their daily walks they may not have seen before and found the independent businesses to support on their doorsteps. I hope that we can continue to celebrate the district for what it has to offer”
Businesses can sign up to our newsletter and find out the latest about business grants and support we can offer by visiting svbs.co.uk
Our Community hub can be contacted via email email@example.com or called on 01235 422600
Please click this link to view a video timeline of the councils’ response to the pandemic.