Covid A Year On: How district council reacted to pandemic

St Albans district council meetings have moved online during the pandemic.

St Albans district council meetings have moved online during the pandemic. Picture: Councillor Josie Madoc - Credit: Josie Madoc

Stepping up to the coronavirus pandemic was an unprecedented challenge for the district council, as it was forced to react swiftly and decisively to a constantly changing world.

As we mark the anniversary of the first lockdown, we look back on some of SADC's achievements during this dramatically different period.

With businesses, charities, community groups and other organisations forced to close, SADC distributed more than £40m in government Covid grants to help them survive the pandemic. This mammoth operation required increasing awareness of the funds, processing applications and guarding against fraud.

Around 4,000 organisations have already benefited from this process to date, but this effort continue with the government likely to announce new start-up grants later this month. Council commercial tenants have also been supported with the option of a new rent plan or deferment.

SADC was involved in converting Batchwood Hall, the Alban Arena and Harpenden Public Halls into vaccination centres, working closely with the NHS and local GPs, and also made Westminster Lodge car park available as a coronavirus testing centre.

During the first lockdown council staff volunteered for other roles to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic, including helping out at West Herts Crematorium and working with Communities First to aid their efforts protecting the district's most vulnerable residents. Meanwhile, recycling and waste collections have continued uninterrupted throughout the year.

Environmental Health officers have been advising shops and businesses about COVID regulations throughout the pandemic and ensuring they meet their public health responsibilities. One pub that was serving drink without a substantial meal was fined after admitting the offence. COVID marshalls were also hired to monitor activities in the city centre and other public areas, even keeping an eye on numbers at the newly opened Verulamium Park play area.

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Pubs and restaurants were offered help to allow takeaway sales and the setting up of community hubs in their car parks or other open spaces as part of the Inside Out campaign.

Throughout the pandemic, NHS and Herts county council public health messages were communicated through the council’s website, social media channels, news releases and residents’ newsletter.

With most people working at home instead of driving to the office, car parking enforcement was limited to dangerous parking, the city centre and well-known hot spots.

Parks have remained open, with visitor numbers surging, museum collections and family activities were moved online, and leisure centre operators offered virtual fitness programmes during lockdown.

Elsewhere, housing evictions were suspended during the first lockdown, and measures were taken to ensure there was nightly accommodation available to all rough sleepers.

The Inside Out market proved to be a 'lifeline' for many businesses. Picture: Rock Pop Candy

The Inside Out market proved to be a 'lifeline' for many businesses. Picture: Rock Pop Candy - Credit: Rock Pop Candy

Council leader Chris White offered his own take on the past 12 months: "This has been the most extraordinary year of my 28 years in politics.

"For councillors it has meant meeting each other in a different way and trying to communicate with residents in new ways.

"But the main players have been the council’s officers, who have had to adapt to new ways of working, new regulations and sometimes new roles.

"Council staff and contractor staff generally don't get plaudits from national politicians but I, with fellow councillors, am proud of those who kept the refuse service going, who worked day in, day out on paying out the business grants, who enforced Covid restrictions in licensed premises but also provided advice and guidance – just to mention a few.

"I’m also delighted with the work we have done with our partners – the local NHS over vaccinations and Communities First volunteers over so much.

"I am disappointed that the government lost sight of district councils and has given us all near impossible holes in our budget. I am just hoping that common sense will prevail and that all the sectors and agencies who have helped fight Covid will get financial support and recognition."