It has been a difficult few months for people up and down the country due to the plethora of issues COVID-19 has generated. Trying to minimise, mitigate and alleviate many of these issues have been Labour Councillors, who once again have shown that they are a tremendous asset in our communities. With this in mind I spoke to Cllr Samantha Charles (Malvern), Joy Squires (Worcester) and Harrison Rone-Clarke (Bromsgrove) about what they’ve been doing in their communities to assist those in need.
- On an individual level, what work have you been doing to help your ward and local community?
I decided to leaflet every household in my ward to give them my contact details and also the phone numbers (and web addresses) of Here2Help, Age UK and Community Action and how to claim NHS food parcels and prescription services. This leaflet was timed perfectly and was delivered by volunteers in local church and community groups and I was able to reach around 2000 residents as a result.Samantha Charles (Malvern District Councillor)
Our local Labour Party organised a drive for local food-banks back at the beginning of the lockdown. We’ve also fought a number of battles at council level to hold the administration’s feet to the fire with regards to their handling of this crisis; notably, the rolling out of rate relief for business.Harrison Rone-Clarke (Bromsgrove District Councillor)
In the first month or so, all my time was taken up with checking on residents I know to be vulnerable for reasons of health conditions and age. I was making sure they were ok for food and medication and were able to access support services. It took two weeks, but I finally managed to get a shielded resident a vegetarian food box! I still check in on these residents, but they are now, in the main, getting the support they need.
The first two weeks of lockdown were critical for making sure basic city council services, like bin collection, were maintained and that bereavement services could cope with what, at that time, looked like a potentially overwhelming number of deaths. I was involved in discussions on agreeing safe working practices so that bin collections could resume, as scheduled, by the third week of lockdown. I was also influential in persuading the city council to communicate more effectively with funeral directors who, as first point of contact with bereaved families, needed to know what the constraints around funerals in Worcester would be.Joy Squires (Worcester City Councillor)
- Have you faced any regular obstacles that have made reaching out to people and helping them difficult?
Once lockdown had happened, there was a lot of misinformation and confusing messages from both the government and media, which made it difficult to help people. They didn’t know what they were entitled to or who to ask for help.Samantha Charles
The people of Bromsgrove have been so incredibly organised in the face of this crisis, setting up community groups etc… This has certainly helped organisers respond to local issues.Harrison Rone-Clarke
In the first two-three weeks of lockdown it was clear that the Worcestershire ‘Here2Help’ service was not up and running so getting help for people who needed it was not easy. Overall, I would say that most services responded flexibly to what is an unprecedented situation. I would single out Worcester Community Trust for particular praise. From a standing start they had organised care packages to up to 200 households within a couple of weeks.Joy Squires
- Do you feel that your Council as an institution have been helpful in aiding your efforts to support the people in your ward?
My council has worked really hard, not only to keep operations and public services running, but also to stay in touch with me as a councillor on a daily basis and offering support and updates to me as well as directing residents to me and answering my requests for help quickly.
I wish there had more joined up working with county, district and town and parish councils. I feel town and parish councils could have been more regularly updated by district and county councils.Samantha Charles
I’ve always been grateful to officers at the District Council, they are enablers. I’ve found that I’ve still been able to get things done.
There have been some administrative issues – we fell behind neighbouring Birmingham City Council in the rolling out of business rate relief.Harrison Rone-Clarke
I feel that I have had good support from the city council.
The city council has shown remarkable agility in responding to the Covid-19 crisis. Within the first two weeks, office-based staff were all equipped to work from home, staff were redeployed to critical areas and councillors were given regular updates on what was happening. I have had no difficulty in getting support from city council officers when I needed it. I have also had feedback from residents saying they have been pleased with the city council’s response as a whole and to their particular enquiries.Joy Squires
- Have any new community groups formed to help people during lockdown and how have existing ones helped the community?
The four existing Residents’ Associations in my ward have all been active in helping in their local areas. Mostly this has involved identifying and supporting particularly vulnerable residents and keeping in touch with me where more specific help was needed.
The local Baptist Church organised a group of volunteers in the early stages of lockdown, offering immediate help to those who had to self-isolate from the start.Joy Squires
Since lockdown I launched #FeedMalvern in partnership with The Brookfarm Community Association in my ward to fundraise to provide emergency food to residents experiencing a sudden loss or drop in income due to furlough or job loss in Malvern. We raised over £3500 and have helped hundreds of families access food, often out of hours or weekends, when the Foodbank was shut, without the need for a referral or voucher from another agency. I was able to propose a special council grant of £2000 for the project.
The Octagon Project and Feed Malvern, Malvern Hills Foodbank and Community Action/Age UK have worked tirelessly to support residents.Samantha Charles
- What should be the Council’s priorities to help the vulnerable in our society over the coming months?
The council won’t be able to bring about the reforms needed to secure the recovery after Coronavirus on its own, it can utilise its own resources to support local residents/business, but it needs to be prepared to put pressure on central government for extra resources (as well as radical reforms), even where it isn’t politically easy.Harrison Rone-Clarke
I am concerned about support for homeless people who were accommodated being withdrawn. As the non-eviction guarantee ends there will be many more people at risk of homelessness who have built up rent arrears and are struggling with unemployment and loss of income. Councils will struggle to continue to provide support with the withdrawal of central government funding.Samantha Charles
Find ‘move on’ accommodation for Rough Sleepers. 43 Rough Sleepers were accommodated at the start of lockdown. We need to find more permanent homes for them, with appropriate support services.
Feeding hungry children and families. Unemployment will soon soar, and we know Universal Credit offers an inadequate safety net. The city council should support Worcester Community Trust to expand its ‘care package’ services across the city.
Fund CAB – they will soon be overwhelmed by residents who cannot make ends meet and will need debt advice and practical support to avoid falling into debt.Joy Squires
- How can people help those in need in their communities during these difficult times?
Do what you can, don’t endanger your own health. If you do feel that you can help, get involved in the community groups working to assist people on the ground.Harrison Rone-Clarke
I think people should continue to check on elderly and vulnerable neighbours. The government seems to have suddenly lifted lockdown for everyone, but the risks to medically vulnerable people remain and so they will still need practical help and support.Samantha Charles
In some areas, individual support to vulnerable people will be necessary and the networks of support are pretty well established at this level. In other parts of the city, organised support will be needed to make sure children are fed and families are getting financial and emotional support. Volunteering with an organisation like Worcester Community Trust, or giving them financial support if you are able to, would be the most effective way of helping.Joy Squires
Go to Here2Help if you want to assist in your community: http://www.worcestershire.gov.uk/here2help
You can contact Harrison, Joy and Samantha via their Councillor email addresses:
- firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com