Covid One Year On: 'Let try to hold on to the best examples of community spirit'

HDC council leader Ryan Fuller and deputy leader John Neish.

HDC council leader Ryan Fuller and deputy leader John Neish. - Credit: HDC

I first wrote for The Hunts Post at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic that would go on to drastically change all our lives.

I announced that the district council was launching a hub to support those in need during what we suspected to be difficult times to come. I recall being very proud of our district and the ways in which volunteers, community groups and parish councils were already starting to come together to coordinate informal support for neighbours and communities.

That feeling of pride has only grown over the past year as our Huntingdonshire community has so readily demonstrated, in the most challenging of circumstances, what we can achieve when we pull together.

I have also been proud of how both councillors and officers of HDC stepped up in many ways to support our community while also ensuring that almost all council services continued to be delivered without disruption. For example, all staff that could work from home moved seamlessly to home working.

HDC deputy leader John Neish distributing food in the community.

HDC deputy leader John Neish distributing food in the community. - Credit: HDC

Grounds maintenance, bin collections, homelessness and housing, licensing, CCTV, markets, and many many more services all carried on uninterrupted. I highlight this only as a reminder that this certainly wasn’t the norm for councils across the country responding to the pandemic. HDC was one of just five per cent of all councils in the entire country still delivering a full waste, street cleaning and operations service.

HDC delivered food in the community.

HDC delivered food in the community. - Credit: HDC

HDC also introduced several additional measures to help people. We redeployed staff to support residents in need with prescription and food deliveries. We also quickly introduced a council tax deferral scheme that allowed some breathing space for those who suddenly found their lives turned upside down by the economic impact of the pandemic.

Likewise, we facilitated the distribution of Government grants to local businesses. This significant and complicated task continues today, with many different iterations of grant schemes made available by Government, and a huge amount of unseen work required in designing, creating and administering the schemes, in line with Government expectations, to keep the flow of money to businesses.

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We have distributed more than £45 million of grants to local businesses and this continues to rise as there are still several ongoing schemes and more yet to come as we enter the recovery and restart phase.

At HDC, we are now at a stage where we are working to reopen the district following the Government’s route map out of lockdown and return to being a thriving district. Alongside the unprecedented work that HDC has done to help with the response to the pandemic we also continue to deliver an ambitious schedule of investment and improvements to support the future prosperity of Huntingdonshire.

From the rollout of free Wi-Fi and the emerging town centre regeneration projects in each of our market towns to the creation of new parks, the development of new business space, building affordable homes on our own land, introducing Civil Parking Enforcement and the distribution of millions of pounds of community infrastructure funding, we are committed to helping every part of our Huntingdonshire community recover from the effects of the pandemic and go on to thrive.

Of course, none of this would happen without the hard work of council staff. I appreciate that criticising those at ‘the council’ or in other much-maligned positions of authority is almost a national pastime. Please do spare a thought for the people working flat out behind the scenes delivering services.

These dedicated professionals aren’t insulated from the pandemic; they are all suffering the same fears, worries, strain and other emotions as the rest of us. They too are missing their friends and families, many have had their children at home whilst trying to work, some have been ill with Covid and others have lost friends, family or colleagues to it.

Therefore, as we move past the first anniversary of the pandemic, and as things start to get back to some sort of normality let’s try to hold on to the best examples of community spirit and positivity that we have all witnessed and remind ourselves how fortunate we are that Huntingdonshire is such a great place to live, work and visit.