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.

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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…)