Caring for the Community
While some organisations had to close and furlough their staff, others such as emergency services, food retailers and local authorities, were busier than ever. We talk to the chief executive of Fylde Borough Council about the important work they had to carry out for Covid-19
In his role as chief executive Allan Oldfield certainly didn’t expect to have to deal with a pandemic. “The key challenge,” said Allan, “is that the goal posts were changing on daily basis. From the first phase of lock down it has been all go. Whilst the community was quiet, local councils faced significant additional responsibilities having to set up a community hub and the infrastructure to administer grants to local businesses.”
“People were isolated, businesses had closed but we needed extra people to work in finance, customer service and community support to help set up a dedicated Covid-19 community hub to support those shielding and process business support grants.”
At the same time the council had depleted resources as a result of the pandemic and over 100 employees working from home or remote locations. “The ability to work from home was not only important for staff safety,” says Allan, “but also to ensure that services could continue to be delivered and the most vulnerable get support when they needed it the most.”
For the residents of Fylde it was important to retain the waste and recycling services. “Green waste collection is an important service in Fylde, the corporate colours of the council logo are green because we have a green Borough. Many councils stopped the green waste service first, at Fylde we put in a lot of effort and resource to ensure that none of our waste services were not disrupted.” The closure of the household waste recycling centres and the fact that people were at home all day increased the volume of waste collected from most households.
The first few weeks of lockdown were best described as chaos, for Allan and his team. “With many employees working seven days a week it was important to maintain staff morale. We had a list of over 3500 vulnerable people who were shielding, who all needed to be contacted and offered support through the hub. The YMCA in St Annes was transformed into a food storage centre and in partnership with their staff food parcels were distributed across the Borough.
“It was surprising how much additional work was required and it would not have been possible to have supported the community without local charities such as the Foodbank, Just Good Friends and a newly created Covid-19 volunteer group. Just Good Friends support lonely and isolated people, they have made thousands of phone calls to residents who were isolating alone and simply needed someone to talk to.”
“When it was possible for people to travel to get exercise, they headed for the beauty spots in the Fylde coast and countryside. The council had set up a campaign titled ‘Don’t Discover Fylde’ to deter people from travelling to the area and to save lives. The ability to get out properly for the first time in five weeks co-coincided with the hot weather creating the perfect storm. People needed to get out, but the bars, restaurants, gyms, cafes and theatres were all closed, it was takeaway and picnic on the beach and open spaces, and Fylde has plenty of both.”
However, more people meant more rubbish left behind, placing additional demand on already stretched resources. “The sheer volume of people and takeaway waste meant that bins were filling up in no time,” said Allan, “when they were full some people were just leaving litter on the ground.”
Social media posts about litter on the beach and open spaces went viral leading to a huge community response to make a real difference and clean up the local area, volunteer litter picking teams sprung up everywhere.”
Whilst some people on social media criticised the council for the lack of bins and the frequency at which they were emptied, others took to the beach, the dunes and the open spaces to help.
“The council contacted the newly formed groups to provide litter pickers, bags and gloves as well as advice and support. With children being off school a lot of families joined the litter picking teams and created an educational experience asking children to find certain things on the beach or create a design that can slot into the back of some specially designed high vis bibs.”
Various groups covered different areas on different days connecting through social media and linking to the long-established Fylde coast co-ordinating group, Love My Beach. Volunteers could be found out at all times of the day from 6am through to 10pm, always there when needed and making a real difference to their local area.
The workload was stepped up again with the announcement that non-essential shops would be opening. “The council visited each premises to provide support and advice on the measures they were putting in place to re-open, it was a whole new experience for everyone, so it was important for the council to be visible and provide support.” A dedicated Town Centre Working Group led by local councillors was set up to co-ordinate and oversee initiatives to support local economic recovery.
“As part of the support the council has given £5000 to each of the local business partnerships in Lytham, St Annes and Kirkham to use for campaigns to promote that business is open. It is a priority for the council to get the area back up and running.”
Some businesses have had to adapt while others have unfortunately had to close. It will take time to get Fylde economy back on its feet but working with partners across the public and private sector we will back stronger than ever.
“Fylde is ready to welcome people back,” adds Allan. “There is still a lot of work to do as we learn from every new experience brought about by the pandemic and we move towards a new and different future for everyone.”