Updates from Devon County Council

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Returning to some semblance of normal is going to be a difficult and slow process. Getting people back to work and school is vital for our wellbeing, our children’s education and our economy – but it must be done safely. We’ve been supporting schools to help them begin to open their doors to more pupils this week, libraries have a phased reopening planned from next week, and local businesses and high streets are making preparations in line with the government’s new ‘COVID-19 secure’ guidance for retailers. Trust and confidence in the decisions made locally by councils and public health teams, or nationally for that matter, is vital. The Local Government Association regularly conducts research to find out what people think about their local councils. They’ve released their findings for May, to reveal how satisfied residents are with councils’ response to COVID-19.

  • 70 per cent of people said that they’re ‘very satisfied’ or ‘fairly satisfied’ with the way that their local council is supporting them and their household during this pandemic.
  • About half said their council is keeping them ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ well informed.
  • And just over half said that they trust the information they receive from their council, ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’.

As we move slowly into this next phase – with restrictions starting to ease further and plans are made for how we are going to help Devon recover from the lockdown, we must continue to work together and build on the effort everyone has made so far to keep ourselves and others safe.

In this update:

  • National study to monitor COVID-19 in schools
  • Phased reopening of libraries
  • Support for local community groups
  • Helpful information from Ordnance Survey about getting outside safely
  • Northern Devon Enterprise Centre
  • Work has started on new road layouts to support walking and cycling
  • Free online parenting courses


Study to monitor prevalence of COVID-19 in schools

A new national study has been launched today that will assess and monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 among pre-school, primary and secondary school pupils and teachers.

Public Health England is running the study. Initially, they’ll collect data from up to 100 schools from across England, and target around 200 staff and children at each school.

Some schools will be offered antibody tests to be taken by medical professionals who are trained to collect blood samples from patients.

Participation by schools is on a voluntary basis, and all parents and guardians will be asked to provide consent for their children or dependents to be involved in the voluntary study.

Information about the study and the testing procedures is available online.


Libraries phased reopening from 6th July

Devon libraries will be reopening from the 6 July.

The buildings have been closed since the end of March, but staff have been working hard and have continued to deliver a lot of library services online.

So much so, they’ve had over 4,000 new users to their digital services.

Alex Kittow, Chief Executive of Libraries Unlimited, which run Devon libraries on our and Torbay Council’s behalf, has set out how they’ll do the phased reopening, starting with contactless ‘Choose and Collect’ services in most libraries.

They also anticipate four pilot libraries, opening initially with limited public access to the building, and bookable sessions on public computers.

They’ll have reduced opening hours initially, and of course, social distancing.


Support for local community groups

When the lockdown started at the end of March, we quickly made money available to help voluntary and community groups to support the most vulnerable people in their communities, and to tackle social and economic impacts of the outbreak.

In the weeks since then, we’ve given over £300,000 to nearly 400 organisations across Devon, working with communities affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).

The money is helping communities be more resilient. It’s improving access to services and information. It’s strengthening community networks, and it’s increasing general wellbeing.

East Devon, Torridge, Teignbridge and North Devon District Councils have all put money in and have helped give small grants to schemes in their communities.

A map of projects successfully funded by the Prompt Action Fund can be found on the Devon County Council website.

Prompt Action Fund helps community transport

Community transport providers have been feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

These are often charities that help residents with lifts to hospital or doctors appointments, for example. They rely largely on volunteer drivers, many of whom have needed to shield during the pandemic, due to their age or because they are caring for someone vulnerable at home.

So when East Teignbridge Community Transport Association lost the majority of their volunteers, with social distancing imposed for their seven remaining drivers, they had to make changes to the way they worked.

We gave them £3,000 from our Prompt Action Fund to support the cost of vehicle maintenance and fuel, and PPE equipment and vehicle sanitisation to ensure safety and wellbeing of community members.

Since lockdown, they’ve helped more than 80 passengers make essential journeys to hospital, GP practices and respite care transfers.

Read what Chris said about how he’s used the charity to get to hospital appointments.

NHS volunteers extend support to frontline health and social care staff

From this week, NHS volunteer responders will extend their support to health and social care workers across the country.

The volunteer responders have completed hundreds of thousands of acts of support and kindness during COVID-19, helping vulnerable individuals, the shielded population, and supporting those who are self-isolating or caring for others.

They can now be called upon by frontline staff working in health and social care, to help them with their shopping and prescription deliveries, to free up more of their time to care.

NHS volunteer responders are not intended to replace local groups helping their vulnerable neighbours, but is an additional service provided by the NHS.

The NHS and Royal Voluntary Service continues to encourage those needing support to self-refer by calling 0808 196 3646.

If you are getting outside during COVID-19

Stay at home as much as you can is still the mantra – so let’s carry on doing that.

But if you are going out, Ordnance Survey has put some really helpful information on their website, to help you decide where to go and what to do. We think it’s a good resource, so we’re sharing it.

It’s about keeping safe and active outside, and it brings together current advice from the government, local authorities and other outdoor organisations.

You put in your location and then search by the type of activity you’d like to do. It gives you all the latest guidance and things to remember, and signposts you to activities in your area.

Northern Devon Enterprise Centre aims to boost economic recovery

Looking towards economic recovery, we’ve been developing a Northern Devon Enterprise Centre near Barnstaple, to open next year.

It’ll provide high quality office and collaboration space and support for entrepreneurs, from start-ups to more established small and medium sized businesses looking to expand.

It will be a boost to the local economy and to jobs in Torridge and North Devon. This is what it’ll look like.

This week, we’ve started a process to find an expert operator to run the centre and deliver the business support.

Places of worship to re-open for individual prayer

From this coming Monday, the 15 June, places of worship will be permitted to open for individual prayer in line with social distancing guidelines.

New guidance will be published shortly to ensure the limited re-opening of places of worship can be done safely.

It will recommend thorough cleaning of shared spaces, hand cleansing at entry and exit, and asking worshippers to bring their own items, such as religious text, rather than use communal ones.

Individual prayer will be permitted from the 15 June, but communally-led prayer, worship or services, including informal prayer meetings, Mass, Jummah or Kirtan, will not be possible just yet.

Work underway on new road layouts to support walking and cycling

Work started at the weekend on some temporary measures to make it easier for people to cycle or walk while social distancing.

The improvements began in Exeter, to support access to the RD&E Hospital.

They include creating a 4km ‘quiet route’, removing through traffic except for buses and cyclists, from Newcourt/Pynes Hill to the city centre.

It’s one of the measures in a series of schemes supported with initial funding of £338,000 from the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund.

Additional temporary measures will be introduced over coming weeks in Exeter, Barnstaple, Bideford and Newton Abbot. And we’ll be submitting a bid to Government for a potential £1.3 million later this summer for more permanent schemes.

Dispose of your masks and gloves responsibly

Lots of us are wearing face masks and gloves when we are out and about now, and we need to make sure we dispose of them responsibly.

Worryingly a growing number of single use PPE items are being littered in hedges, dropped on pavements and washed up on beaches.

Please, take your rubbish home with you and remember, single-use gloves and masks are not recyclable, so you need to put them in the general waste bin and help limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19)