This week marked a year since the first national lockdown and it’s been a time where we’ve all reflected on what has been one of the most challenging and testing times for everyone.
The many lives lost, the restrictions we’ve lived under and the time we’ve had to spend apart from those we love are just some of the reasons the last year has been so tough.
But it’s also been a time where councils and their communities have dug deep to keep local people safe and there are so many positives, we can take away from this.
In Kirklees, I have been absolutely blown away by the power of our community’s response to the pandemic, and never have our cooperative values been more important and impactful.
Our battle against the Covid-19 pandemic could never have been fought by Kirklees Council alone; we could only do it with our partners and our communities.
12 months ago, when we entered the first lockdown, with rising infection rates, hospital admissions and people losing their lives, we had to act fast and do everything we could to protect people, care for our most vulnerable, support businesses, schools and so much more.
The only way we could do all of this was in complete cooperation with our incredible networks of community groups and organisations, who made it clear from day one that Kirklees was up to the challenge.
At the start of the pandemic, we worked closely with new Mutual Aid Groups facilitating the support local people needed and establishing neutral spaces that enabled us to hear how we could do things better and respond to the concerns these community groups raised. This created a valuable route for the detailed local knowledge that these organisations could share.
We’ve continued with this listening space and have been able to maintain a great relationship of mutual trust and cooperation to support not only the needs of the community in relation to Covid-19, but also to build on this to support testing, vaccinations and help create an even stronger future for cooperation in Kirklees. We know that through this work, we’re already better placed to deal with events such as flooding or any other incident in a collective way.
This cooperative, all hands on deck approach ran all the way through our organisation. Our frontline workers such as bin operatives helped keep Kirklees running. But we also deployed staff from services that had to halt their operations, such as libraries. Leisure centres and housing associations did the same so we could all work alongside local volunteers and community groups, as one Kirklees team.
And this kind of spirit shone through our businesses too. We had greengrocers leading mutual aid responses for their villages, Co-operative Care Colne Valley joined other community anchors, and a whole host of others contributed their time and skills to do all they could to help.
When the businesses had to close, we saw the community and voluntary sector incredibly take on challenges in a way we’ve never seen before. We need to keep that energy going and build on it – we’re committed to supporting this sector even more moving forward.
There were so many people, businesses and organisations that put their communities first during the initial stages of the pandemic, that we launched a Community Heroes campaign to tell these heart-warming stories of togetherness.
One local hero in particular that stands out to me is a Kirklees business owner who delivers mental health first aid training for a living in more normal times. But during the height of the pandemic, she wanted to help as many people as possible whilst her business had to be put on hold. Helen decided to put her training to good use and volunteered her time to help residents and NHS staff with free mental health support on the phone. As part of our Community Heroes campaign, we promoted Helen’s offer of support. We have so many stories like this that epitomise the overwhelming community spirit in Kirklees during such challenging times, where people like Helen put the health and wellbeing of others first and this type of gesture was an invaluable part of our response to the pandemic.
In addition to voluntary groups, ward councillors played such an important role as community champions, using their localised budgets to work with residents in their area and provide the support needed specifically in each place.
And we also worked closely with local faith leaders and organisations to engage with those harder to reach.
As we moved through the pandemic, we faced every challenge thrown at us as one Kirklees team. Whether it was community testing, supporting those at risk of domestic abuse, the vaccine rollout, supporting those shielding, engaging with those harder to reach, every step of the way we’ve been in this together. It’s about ensuring our eyes and ears are on the ground, listening and responding.
Now, as we mark a year since the first national lockdown, I look back with sadness thinking about those we’ve lost and miss.
However, it’s important we also remember our achievements and when I think about Kirklees’ response to the pandemic, I feel pride about how we’ve worked side by side with local people.
This is a place where no one will be left behind and our borough’s recovery from Covid-19 will also have inclusion at the heart of it, as we focus on tackling the inequalities bluntly highlighted by the pandemic.
I’ve never been prouder of the fact that we’re a Cooperative Council.
Councillor Shabir Pandor, Leader of Kirklees Council