Celebrating Volunteers’ Week

This week is Volunteers’ Week – the annual celebration of all the wonderful people who go above and beyond to help others.

Volunteers really are the backbone of our city and support people to an extent which many will never appreciate. Charities, support groups, leisure attractions such as Nene Valley Railway – none of these would be able to meet the demand they do without an army of loyal volunteers.

But in recent weeks the coronavirus pandemic has shone an even brighter light on these volunteers, including the many who have so willingly signed up to help others during these most difficult times.

There are hundreds of people across our city who are supporting people who are in need, collecting medicines and food and doing other good deeds. In Castor and Ailsworth in my ward, five residents got together and set up a COVID-19 support group and recruited more than 80 volunteers in just five days. That’s an incredible achievement.

There are well established networks too which have had to call on even more support from volunteers to meet demand. Peterborough Foodbank has long been supported by a dedicated group of volunteers, but the service has recruited an additional 80 volunteers to help it cope with a 98% increase in the numbers of people being fed compared with the same time last year.

Our support for people who are most in need through the Peterborough COVID-19 Support Hub could not have been delivered without volunteers. Many are providing emotional support for people struggling with isolation, whilst others are collecting and delivering food and medicines or supporting organisations such as Family Voice by packing and delivering food parcels.

Even now as restrictions begin to ease, the work of the volunteers remains vital. For example, to begin re-opening our city in a manner that is safe, volunteers will be taking up marshalling and information support roles, ensuring that the crucial social distancing and safety measures are adhered to.

And as people continue to shield from the virus, the volunteers supporting the Countywide Coordination Hub will be vital to ensure this group of people has the support it needs.

pboro hub pic

So please, if you know someone who is volunteering, take time to show them how much you appreciate their efforts this week.

This evening I will be joining (virtually!) Acting Police and Crime Commissioner, Ray Bisby, for a Clap for Volunteers at 8pm in support of the invaluable contributions our volunteers continue to make to support people during Covid-19. Please join in too.

You can also share your thanks on social media using #ClapforVolunteers and #PboroTogether

Update on social distancing measures

The lockdown measures have been reduced further this week, with people now allowed to meet in groups of up to six people in outdoor settings, including gardens, whilst maintaining social distancing of 2 metres.

It comes as a relief to people like my wife Barbara and I, who have longed to be able to spend time with our children and grandchildren.

People who are shielding from the virus have also been told that they can go outdoors with members of their own household, or if they live alone, with one other person from another household who is isolating.

And of course, children in reception and years 1 and 6 were able to return to school and early years settings this week across many parts of the city. I would like to thank every school and early years setting for the extensive efforts they have gone to in order to make this return as smooth and safe for the children as possible.

We have also seen the launch of NHS Test and Trace which, in theory, will allow us to track every case of the coronavirus to thwart its spread in our communities.

The more people who use this system correctly, the more effective it will be at stopping the spread of the virus and the safer it will be for you and your loved ones and the faster we can lift the lockdown. So please use it.

More information about how the system works and what we need you to do is available at www.peterborough.gov.uk. Alternatively, if you develop symptoms, please call 119.

Online Booking system for Household Recycling Centre

When the Household Recycling Centre at Fengate reopened last month, I promised I would review the situation for vans and trailers as soon as possible.

So, I am pleased to say that on Wednesday we reopened the site to vans and trailers, however visits need to be booked in advance at www.peterborough.gov.uk.

HRC fengate

The online booking system is a temporary measure and will allow us to stagger access for these vehicles throughout the day, limiting queues and ensuring continued access to everyone who needs to make an essential visit.

You can rest assured the council will continue to work hard to keep its residents safe and well and to keep the city moving.

Plans for our return to the city centre

Three weeks ago the Prime Minister lifted restrictions on our movements slightly to allow more people to get back to work and for unlimited outdoors exercise – all whilst observing social distancing of course.

We now know that outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to reopen from 1 June and all other non-essential retail outlets from 15 June, if the Government’s five tests are met and they follow the COVID-19 guidelines to protect workers and shoppers.

On Peterborough Market, traders selling essential items such as food, DIY and hardware goods have been able to continue trading during the lockdown. We now plan to undertake a health and safety audit to ensure the Government’s social distancing measures can be implemented safely, before allowing traders selling non-essential items to return.

We have been planning for the reopening of the city centre for a number of weeks, together with local businesses and business representative groups such as Queensgate, Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough Positive, so that there is clear guidance for businesses.

New social distancing guidance and signage will begin to be installed in the city soon and people will start to notice that things they touch a lot such as benches, bins and pay and display machines are being cleaned more regularly.

We are also working with businesses to see how areas such as St Peter’s Arcade and the Guildhall can become part a wider café culture in the city – I’ll be able to tell you more about this soon!

guildhall peterborough

Of course, all of this will cost money, so I am pleased the Government has allocated us £181,000 from the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund to pay for some of the changes that will be necessary.

We know that COVID-19 has had a harsh impact on businesses in Peterborough and that’s why we are looking at how we can re-open our city centre as soon as we are able to, as safely as possible. We know our city’s economy is strong which means we are in a better position than most to weather the crisis. (more…)

Peterborough pulls together for Mental Health Awareness Week

The past couple of months have been difficult for us all and I think it’s fair to say that most of us have suffered mentally through not being able to see family and friends and to socialise in the many ways we are used to doing.

For young people and those with pre-existing mental health conditions it has been particularly hard. Research carried out by Young Minds found that 83% of young people have said the coronavirus pandemic has made their mental health worse.

This is really worrying and provides even greater reason for us to mark Mental Health Awareness Week and to talk about mental health and how we can all support one another better.

Throughout this week people are being asked to celebrate acts of kindness in their own lives and communities and to create a few more.

Every day I hear about kind acts taking place across our city – the pandemic has truly brought out the best in many people who are using their time to ensure others are safe and well.

Many of these stories come via our Peterborough COVID-19 Support Hub, run by the city council, which is assisting groups and organisations to help those in need, as well as supporting people directly to access food and medicine and in many other ways.

pboro hub pic

For example, Peterborough Asylum and Refuge Community Association (PARCA) received a request for emergency food for a family of four recently. Moez Nathu, CEO of PARCA, delivered the emergency food within a couple of hours of the request being made.

The Peterborough Foodbank, which has been doing fantastic work in our city for many years, has recently recruited an additional 80 volunteers to keep up with demand from those who need help accessing food during the pandemic. All these people are giving their time for free to help those most in need.

Just last week an urgent call came into the city council’s hub from a lady who needed medication for her son that evening. The call was received at 5pm and by 5.40pm SERV, a local bikers group, had delivered the medication to the family.

It’s these kinds of examples that make me proud to live and work in Peterborough.

If you need help from the Peterborough Hub, please visit www.peterborough.gov.uk/coordinationhub or call 01733 747474, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Lots of information and advice around mental health is available at www.keep-your-head.com. In response to the pandemic, the Lifeline helpline, a free mental health support service, has increased its hours so people can call 0808 808 2121 and receive help between 9am and 11pm Monday to Friday and 2pm to 11pm on weekends and Bank Holidays. (more…)

Westcombe Engineering – back in business

Without a doubt the pandemic has hit many businesses hard with companies across the globe trying to find ways they can continue to operate with the restrictions that are in place.

There are some that are finding a way, including Westcombe Engineering in Peterborough – a social enterprise owned by the council which provides permanent employment and work experience for disabled people.

Westcombe has changed the lives of so many skilled and talented disabled people, their families and communities and I am pleased that has continued in the most uncertain of times.

Like many businesses, Westcombe shut up shop when the Prime Minister imposed the strict lockdown, but after a comprehensive risk assessment reopened with a phased return of staff, rising from 20 per cent of the workforce being in operation to 81 per cent now.

The management introduced sweeping changes to working practises to ensure staff were protected including staggered lunch and tea breaks, hygiene stations, regular team discussions, additional changing rooms and toilets, spacing out lockers, stopping people clocking in and out and only allowing essential visitors on site.

With the Prime Minister encouraging some sectors to return to work this week, Westcombe is an example of how this can be achieved whilst abiding by the stringent social distancing and hygiene measures.

Even during these unprecedented times, Westcombe Engineering is experiencing its busiest period since the business started operating in 1970, securing new orders for existing customers Caterpillar Inc and Advanced Handling.

Only this week it had another new machining centre delivered to support a significant order, which involves supplying high precision machined parts which fit into a battery module, to allow the electrification conversion of school buses in America.

Westcombe is a shining example of how businesses, paying attention to Government and Public Health England guidance, can set their wheels in motion once again.

There are other businesses too across the city which have continued to operate, indeed prosper. But I know for many others it continues to be a worrying time. Please read the guidance that is coming from the government and consider carefully how it affects your own business, both in terms of the support that is available and when certain industries can begin to operate again.


A reflection on Peterborough in 2020

Today I should have been drawing to a close a career in politics that has spanned more than 40 years.

In January I reluctantly announced I would be retiring from the council at the local elections, for health reasons and to spend more time with my family.

Those elections should have taken place today, but because of the pandemic have been postponed.

I’m pleased that I can continue to serve the city for a further year, using my experience to lead the council through this particularly challenging time.

It gives me great pleasure to do so when I see the fantastic efforts being made by people and organisations across the city to help others.

They say that adversity can often bring the best out in people and that is certainly what we are seeing once again in Peterborough.

In my own village of Glinton we have a bank of volunteers helping people to access food and medicine and with other needs. The Friendship Club which my wife Barbara runs is also supporting people who are isolating, running a buddy scheme which see members regularly ringing villagers to check they are OK.

In Castor and Ailsworth there is a team of more than 70 volunteers supporting those who need help, posting mail, collecting food and organising online quiz nights.

Villagers in Ashton and Bainton have been donating non-perishable food items by placing them on their doorsteps in shopping bags tied with brightly-coloured ribbon. This is then delivered to Peterborough Foodbank for sharing with those in need.

But it’s not just the villages – these acts of kindness are taking place across the whole city.

Members of the Husaini Islamic Centre have been helping those who need support and producing online sermons, lectures and prayers to be streamed into people’s homes.

Atif Iqbal, a secondary school teacher, has co-ordinated and prepared Ramadan gift bags for prisoners at HMP Peterborough.  Items such as prayer mats and the holy Quran were donated by the Muslim community, businesses and organisations. Secondary school teachers have also been making protective visors for health services.

Peterborough Foodbank has recruited more than 60 new volunteers to help those self-isolating. Since 23 March, it has fed more than 1,300 people and given away 6,021 kilograms of food, enough to make 14,335 meals.

City College Peterborough has a small army of staff making and delivering 100 packed lunches to the homeless each day. About 150 hot meals are also cooked and delivered to students and Cross Keys residents that are self-isolating and don’t have other support.

These are just a few of the many examples which show how people are helping others to stay safe and well in these difficult times.

Of course, I should also mention the council staff who are working hard to keep the city moving and supporting those who need it – our social workers, refuse and recycling crews, school staff and many more.

Only this week I heard that our passenger transport team that usually takes children to and from school has been transporting a man undergoing cancer treatment to his hospital appointments. He was unable to access his usual public transport and it was taking him two hours to make the journey. Our passenger transport team is now taking him to his appointments which is making the experience much easier for him.

Please, continue to think of the people who live around you and check they are OK. Just a phone call once a week may be all it takes for that person to feel supported. (more…)

Marking VE Day this Bank Holiday

Next Friday marks an important day in our country’s history – it’s 75 years since the guns fell silent in Europe during World War II.

As a result, this year Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) has been declared a Bank Holiday and prior to the COVID-19 outbreak a long weekend of celebrations was planned.

Many of the events have now been cancelled because we cannot celebrate with others in the way we perhaps would have done, but I want to join the many voices nationally who are calling on people to find different ways of marking VE Day at home, to reflect on the enormous sacrifice, courage and determination shown by so many people, from all walks of life.

People are being encouraged to host parties at home, or in the garden, for those they live with and then connect with friends and family online.

My wife Barbara has demonstrated her Blue Peter skills by showing me how easy it is to make bunting out of old card and bit of string. You could try it too or maybe task children in your family to create VE Day posters to display.

Or if you’ve taken to baking during the isolation period, why not bake VE Day inspired cakes? You could even wear your poppy, if you have one in a drawer from a previous Armistice Day.

You can also join in with the ‘Nation’s Toast to the Heroes of WW2’ by raising a glass of a refreshment of your choice at 3pm.

Locally, a virtual service will be hosted by Peterborough Cathedral, led by the Dean Christopher Dalliston and Canon Ian Black, the Vicar of Peterborough. During the service there will be a reflection from the Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, and the Last Post will be played by Ollie Maynard, a student at The King’s School.

This will be broadcast as a live stream  from 3pm on the  Facebook page and also as a video via the cathedral’s website.

Our cathedral is also asking people to take part in the Big Picnic for Hope to celebrate VE Day heroes and the heroes of our current time – those risking their lives on the ‘front line’ – NHS staff, carers, delivery personnel, workers in food stores or public transport, and the remarkable collective effort of the nation to stay home and play our part in combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

The picnic aims to raise £5,000 for the Trussell Trust, the charity that supports a nationwide network of foodbanks (including Peterborough Foodbank). You can find out more by searching for Big Picnic for Hope on Facebook.

We’ll be sharing suggestions for how you can get involved in marking VE Day on our social media pages, including how to make your own bunting, plus links to resources you can download to teach our younger generation about VE Day.

Whatever you are doing, please share your photos with the council on social media with the caption “To those who gave so much, we thank you”.

I know not everyone will be in the mood for celebration during these worrying times, but I hope residents will be able to look back in years to come with pride, that even through a pandemic the people of Peterborough still managed to come together to mark a special day in history.

And don’t forget to save the bunting you make for VJ Day in August too, the date in history when World War II came to an end. (more…)

Support for our businesses

In the past week we have started to plan for council services returning to normal once the rate of infection has significantly reduced and the social distancing measures can be lifted.

We know we are still some way from this and that the message remains that we must all stay at home to save lives and protect our NHS.

But we have to make sure that when life does return to ‘normal’, we can continue to provide the services that we have stopped temporarily or have been running differently.

I imagine every business across our city is thinking in the same way and I hope that the support being provided by the Government, including the grants being administered by the council, is supporting them to remain viable at this time and will support them to recover.

In the past month the Chancellor has announced a raft of support measures for businesses of every size and type.

The council is administering the small business grant scheme, which provides a one-off grant of £10,000 to eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs, and a £25,000 grant for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. In addition, we’re implementing a business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses and nurseries for the 2020/21 tax year.

As of last Sunday, we have paid out more than £15 million to 1,243 small businesses and businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. Further payments will continue to be made over the coming days with the majority of these to take place by the end of the month. Businesses which qualify for the grants do not need to do anything, the council will pay the money directly into their accounts.

We’ve also awarded 100 per cent business rate relief for 1,255 retail/hospitality/leisure businesses, totalling £36,255,343.42. We also have 31 nurseries eligible for relief of £337,656.

On Monday the Government announced the launch of the Job Retention Scheme, which will see HMRC reimburse 80% of furloughed workers’ wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, for employees that otherwise would have been laid off due to the crisis. More information can be found on the government website.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority is offering capital grant funding of £2,000 to £150,000 to help businesses strengthen capacity, survive the emergency period and recover more quickly. Visit the Capital Grant Scheme website to see if your business will qualify. It’s also supporting businesses to determine what support is available and support helping them in accessing it by providing a business support triaging service.

PCC and CCC logos

There are lots more support schemes available – I have mentioned just a few. Lots of information is available on our website or through our partners at Opportunity Peterborough. Businesses can also get help and support by emailing info@opportunitypeterborough.gov.uk. (more…)

Thank you for being safe this Easter

I’d like to start by saying a big thank you to everyone who worked during the Easter weekend to look after people, keep them safe or to ensure the city continued to run smoothly.

Working public holidays is never easy at the best of times, but I hope that the support and gratitude from the general public, particularly on social media, will have helped lift the spirits of NHS staff, carers, social workers, police officers, supermarket staff, refuse collectors and the many others I could mention.

Many of our schools were open on Good Friday and Easter Monday too, supporting the children of key workers and vulnerable children – as they have been throughout the Easter holidays. It is so important these children are able to attend school to support them and their families.

thank you from pcc chairs

Thank you also to everyone who stayed at home and heeded the vital message to slow the spread of the disease and protect our NHS. You all supported our frontline staff by doing so.

That is the single biggest thing we can all do at the moment, to reduce the number of deaths and give our NHS the chance to help everyone who needs it, whether it’s those fighting the Coronavirus or other illnesses. (more…)

Stay home and save lives this Easter

Many of us will have sat down on Sunday evening to hear our Queen address the nation and deliver a reassuring message of hope.

Other than the annual televised message on Christmas Day, it is only the fifth time Her Majesty has addressed the nation – the other times being following the death of the Queen Mother, prior to the funeral of Princess Diana, during the first Gulf War and to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

It is a rare and unusual occurrence, but then much of what we are all being asked to do at the moment is exactly that.

During the Easter weekend it is vitally important that we all continue to heed the message to stay at home, to help protect our NHS and ourselves and to save lives.

stay home save lives

It will be a very difficult for my wife Barbara and I, to not see our grandchildren and the rest of our family, as it will be for many people. But we must put all those feelings aside and think of other ways we can keep in touch – Facetime or one of the other video messaging facilities for example.

Last week we launched a campaign, Peterborough Together Against Coronavirus, which asks people to share their ideas about how they are keeping in touch and finding entertainment without making physical contact with those outside their home. It might be video calls with family and friends, quiz nights hosted virtually or your regular exercise class online.

During the Easter holidays we’re publishing a daily challenge to help keep families entertained and encourage them to try something new whilst at home – follow us on Facebook to find out more.

We are also asking people to share information about services they might be providing which can help people who are isolating. It might be a butcher or convenience store offering deliveries or a pub delivering cooked meals. The more we can share these messages, the less cut off people will feel from the outside world and it will reduce feelings of loneliness.

There’s information on our website and social media channel, so please have a look. (more…)

Applauding our NHS staff and key workers

Last week people across the country stood on their doorsteps and gave a round of applause for NHS staff who are working tirelessly to help those suffering from the effects of the Coronavirus, or indeed other conditions or illnesses.

I have always had a huge amount of respect and admiration for our NHS and consider it to be one of the best health services in the world. We are now seeing this, day in, day out.

For me, the pandemic has also shone a light on the services that we provide which residents need and rely upon in times of crisis as much as they do every other day of the year. Care for the elderly, support for children in care, bin collections and burial services are just a few examples of those services which we have no choice over providing – see my vlog for more on this.

Our adult social care staff are playing a crucial role in helping the elderly and vulnerable adults to stay safe in their own homes, particularly those who are self-isolating, providing personal care and assistance.

Last week they supported 65 people out of hospital and back into the community, freeing up beds at the hospital. Home care plans and packages have been put in place for each person so that they can recuperate at home and regain their independence.

Our housing team continues to support rough sleepers in the city and has provided self-contained accommodation for every vulnerable rough sleeper to allow them to self-isolate.

Council staff, working in partnership with the British Red Cross, are preparing and delivering parcels of food and emergency supplies for the most vulnerable who are shielding from the Coronavirus. The Government has promised that a national food distribution scheme will be up and running very soon, but until then we’re ensuring that those residents who need food, medicine and emergency supplies are looked after.

If you are at home and shielding because of serious health or medical conditions and we have not been in touch, please contact us via our website or on 0345 045 5219.

Our co-ordination hub, which I told you about last week, continues to target support for those most at risk. If you’re someone who wants to help, but aren’t necessarily sure how, then please visit our website and register your interest.

I know that many people appreciate the efforts made by council officers such as those I have mentioned – there are many more I have not name checked.

It made me smile to learn that residents have been leaving messages of support on their wheelie bins for our Aragon Direct Services bin collection crews! These staff cannot work from home and they know the service they provide is vital.

thank you bin notes

I would like to put my own thanks on record, for every council staff member who is working around the clock to keep people safe and well and informed, for every NHS worker, every police officer, every supermarket staff member and for each and every person who is working together to get us through this most testing time.