It is thought the first COVID-19 case was identified in the UK at the end of January 2020. While it arrived without much fuss, by March 2020 the UK was totally locked down, apart from essential services.
On the 2nd February 111,264 deaths had been recorded within 28 days of a positive test for COVID-19. Many thousands more continue to be dogged by post COVID infection symptoms. The devastation of the last year is difficult to overestimate.
NHS staff and volunteers stretched to their limits; hundreds of thousands of businesses thrown into uncertainty for over a year; disruption through virtually every aspect of life; and many people having to isolate and not meet family and fiends for long periods of time. For far too many, not being able to see their closest family and friends as they die and having to stay away from their funeral.
This past year has been dreadful for us all.
Yet – as with other national crisis – communities do their best to respond. A whole range of community groups in Bishop Auckland have stepped up their work to help those in need. Auckland Project supplied 15,400 meals to children during school holiday. At the same time, they distributed 7 tonnes worth of vegetables to foodbanks in the local area.
When the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, within days the Bishop Auckland Area Covid-19 Community Support group had over 6,000 members on Facebook. All of the major supermarkets in Bishop Auckland have donated huge amounts of groceries to community groups to distribute to those in need.
Behind all this effort is the day-to-day assistance individual people have given – voluntarily – to help their neighbours. Over the past year, a massive effort has been made by clubs, community groups, schools, allotment holders, surgeries, foodbanks, farmers, doctors, nurses, vets, bus drivers, shop workers and a whole host of other people to try and make our community safe. And this has happened over County Durham as well.
As the Local Authority covering Bishop Auckland, Durham County Council have:
- supported around 8,000 businesses with total grant payments of over £90 million;
- recalculated the business rates bills of just under 2,300 businesses, applying business rate reductions and discounts totalling over £49 million;
- offered assistance to over 25,600 medically vulnerable people in the county who have been encouraged to shield from infection because they are at extreme risk of illness;
- contacted over 12,400 people who are shielding and need help;
- undertook a series of prioritised mailshots with leaflets delivered to all those shielding, to over 75,000 other vulnerable people, then to all 310,000 households in the county;
- received nearly 4,100 calls into our dedicated community support hub call centre and resolved over 2,700 requests where people required actual help and assistance;
- introduced enhanced support for residents affected by domestic abuse, homelessness and drug and alcohol problems, all of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic;
- established a volunteer bureau to enable local people and groups who want to help;
- invested an additional £1.5 million via Area Action Partnerships (AAPs) to support local and cross-county community responses and have enabled local Members to allocate Member budgets more flexibly, potentially providing a further £1.7 million of revenue support;
- increased our Welfare Assistance Scheme by a further £1m to provide emergency financial assistance for those in crisis;
- adjusted our Local Council Tax Support scheme, utilising the Hardship Fund to provide up to an additional £300 council tax relief and arranged individually with council tax payers in financial hardship for their payments to be deferred until later in the year;
- supported commissioned social care providers through over 9,000 telephone calls and the provision of advice and support;
- agreed 5% and 10% funding increases for providers and made £13 million of payments upfront, as opposed to in arrears, in order to help with funding and cashflow issues;
- supplied over 275,000 pieces of PPE to the social care sector on an emergency basis and managed the provision of emergency PPE on behalf of the Local Resilience Forum (LRF);
- established an infection inspection team and comprehensive multi-agency support package to support care homes to prevent and tackle infection outbreaks;
- provided advice and assistance to schools across the county and assisted over 250 schools to remain open to provide childcare for key workers;
- maintained all child protection, safeguarding and social care services, retaining contact with children and their families;
- prioritised and maintained service delivery wherever possible, which has involved the redeployment, training and development of 467 staff;
- developed a comprehensive emergency human resource policy and support physical and mental health support packages for staff;
- developed access to rapid local testing for council and social care staff, supported the roll-out of testing via the National Testing Programme and developed regional and local contact tracing arrangements.
As Town Ambassadors we might have not had the opportunity to promote Bishop Auckland as we would have liked to. As individuals we have all worked in our community to help those near us to cope with the impact of COVID-19.
For more information on the COVID-19 restrictions, click on: