In March – as the true extent of the crisis was becoming clearer – City of York Council took steps to enable the council to deliver support to individuals and York’s businesses and communities. Like all other local authorities, the shutdown rendered normal decision-making procedures unworkable, and you can read about how local decision-making is adapting here.
In response to these changes, local councillors are finding new ways of working to ensure that residents' voices are heard in these difficult time. Much of the work of councillors has moved online, with dozens of Zoom and Skype meetings, as well as hundreds of phone calls to residents. First and foremost, councillors are ensuring that residents affected by the pandemic have their needs met, from referring residents to the Council’s help team, to assisting with food deliveries or financial advice and support. Councillors have also continued to deal with the hundreds of local issues that arise in their wards, from pothole and pavement repairs, to flytipping, anti-social behaviour and welfare claims.
Every councillor will have stories of how they have been working in unusual ways and dealing with extraordinary issues, but below are a flavour of what is happening across City of York Council's area:
Cllr Carol Runciman, Huntington and New Earswick, said:
"The unexpected arrival of lockdown caught many UK residents by surprise. Having arranged what might have been the holiday of a lifetime, two NHS workers were stuck in another country with no prospect of getting home.
“That’s what happened to two residents in Huntington and New Earswick Ward who were on holiday in South Africa, where a particularly strict lock down happened very quickly. Having heard of their plight via e-mail, I contacted them first and then their MP to find out how to get them back home again. It took quite a few emails to get some news as high level negotiations were going on with the South African government. I also made a point of keeping in touch with them, especially over Easter, to help them realise they weren’t forgotten.
“Eventually, they heard that they would be flown back, and after that, details of a flight came through. It was great to hear they had safely crossed Africa by car to reach Cape Town, flown back to Heathrow late at night and had then driven back to York and home. As I knew they had two dogs, I’m quite sure the dogs were pleased to have them home too!”
Cllr James Barker (Flight Lieutenant), Rural West York said:
"When approached by the Squadron's chain of command, I was proud to volunteer for duty and I am pleased to be able to support the NHS in their fight against the virus. My RAF career has prepared me for many things but this is one enemy we cannot see.
"Whilst I am now working from Fulwood Barracks, Preston as a Media Liaison officer, linking the activities of the NHS, Military and the Local Resilience Forum, to get key messages across to the wider community I am also able to stay up to date with the work as a ward councillor through regular online meetings and phone calls.
"I'm hugely grateful to my ward colleague Councillor Anne Hook, who has taken on the local casework that means residents are supported and I can help support the NHS."
Cllr Sue Hunter, Westfield, said:
"As well as my day to day ward work, I have been taking on extra shifts at St. Leonard's Hospice, which has been forced to shut their 14 shops and postpone all fundraising events - taking a real toll on their finances.
“The work St Leonard’s does is absolutely essential for our community. As a volunteer I’ve seen first-hand how much strain the COVID-19 crisis is putting them under. I would urge anyone who is able, to make a donation and support our local Hospice."
Cllr Stephen Fenton, Dringhouses and Woodthorpe, said:
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of communities across Dringhouses & Woodthorpe. Many have been able to adapt and keep going during this crisis period to provide essential services, but for others these are desperately worrying times.
“I have been contacting businesses to let them know about the help and support that is on offer through both the Government grants schemes that the council is administering, and the council’s grants for micro businesses that don’t qualify for the Government schemes.
“I and many other councillors have made good use of their local knowledge and connections to make sure that residents and businesses get the help and support they need.”
Cllr Keith Aspden, Fulford and Heslington, said:
"As the local Councillor for Fulford and Heslington, I am really proud to live in my community, as I see everyday my neighbours and local residents helping each other, from delivering essential information and food, to volunteering and making sure friends and neighbours are well.
“On Thursday during the Clap for our Carers, I was pleased that buildings across York were lit up blue and green this week. The green was thank all of those working in social care, including nursing homes. In Fulford, I was able to secure the loan of an iPad from the Council for Fulford Nursing Home, who are going a great job. The extra iPad will help residents there go online, do some shopping and trial virtual GP conferencing. A big thank you from our local community to all the social care key workers.
“It’s very different working from home, rather than in West Offices or traveling to different areas, with the need to now be a local councillor and council leader from my kitchen table. It’s really important that we offer now more than ever support for residents, communities and businesses. Just like hundreds of council staff and residents, I am doing things differently, being on Zoom and Skype for meetings and using Facebook Live and our first online Executive to make sure we keep on communicating.”
Cllr Andrew Hollyer, Haxby and Wigginton, said:
"This week I have been working with the local Covid-19 Help Facebook group to deliver an extra leaflet to residents of Haxby and Wigginton on local contacts should they need more assistance.
"I have been checking in with the staff at the local Post Office, who are on the frontline locally in supporting many elderly residents, ensuring that they know where to direct those who require help and assistance."
Cllr Sam Waudby, Rawcliffe and Clifton Without, said:
“It has been a real adjustment, there is only so much of the local area you can check on in your daily walks!
“My number one priority is helping residents through this difficult time. That’s why I’ve been working with my local pharmacy to deliver medication to those who are most vulnerable to the virus. I would encourage anyone who is dealing with a problem to get in touch with your local councillor. We still want to help even if we can’t knock on your door anymore!”
Cllr Chris Cullwick, Huntington and New Earswick, said:
“Along with my ward colleagues I have been responding to a range of enquires about local services and issues and a number of requests for ward funding to support some welcome initiatives in the local community.
“We have also been reaching out to local residents by making phone calls to check if people need support through this difficult time. I have been struck by how grateful many residents have been for a good conversation and a sympathetic ear. Anyone who is isolated without support at this time should contact the council helpline on 01904 551550 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org”
Councillors work hard for their communities all year round, and the coronavirus period is no different. If you have any issues you can find your local councillor here