By Cllr Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council
Well, what a week it has been! Since my update last Friday, part of me feels like we have all been on a rollercoaster – highs and lows and a prevailing sense of the unknown too. It’s definitely been a week of contrast – positive steps forward alongside some frustrations and worries. But, as we prepare for major changes as of Monday next week, I hope that this update is a positive one (if still cautious) and provides some encouragement for us all.
When I wrote to you last week, we had just received the latest R data – suggesting that we in the North West were experiencing higher rates of transmission of the virus than anywhere else in the UK. It was a stark reminder that the challenge of dealing with COVID-19 is not yet over – far from it. I know that information hit me quite hard last week and I know those feelings were shared by many of you.
I also know that many of you would like more local data – I have been asked what the figures are for Knowsley. There is no such local data at present – and I agree with those people who feel that it would be very useful to know just what the risks are in our local areas and communities.
Particularly, I know that many parents and teachers were really concerned about what the apparent increase in the North West R number meant for them. So I was really keen at the start of this week to make sure that we showed our support to our schools community. We have always been clear with schools that they should open when it is SAFE to do so and that position remains unchanged. This week (before the Government’s apparent U-turn) we also confirmed that we would be supportive of schools who wanted to pause their plans for re-opening in light of the latest information.
I know that the decision as to whether or not to welcome back more pupils is not mine or the Council’s to make but I wanted to make sure that schools knew that we are here to help and support our schools in making those important decisions. We all know how important it is to get our children and young people back into the learning environment but we have to make sure that teachers, school staff, parents, carers and pupils are supported to feel safe and to be safe. So our work with schools continues and over the coming weeks and months we will take steps towards getting our children and young people back into school-based education. It’s vital because the role of schools is not only to educate and develop our children but also give them those vital social interactions with their peers and friends.
And social interaction is certainly something which people of all ages are really missing at this time. Whilst some restrictions have already been loosened, we are clearly still some way off from returning to any sense of normality. I have heard more and more people in the last week or so admit that they are really beginning to struggle with the lockdown restrictions and the continued pressured on home life and people’s mental health. So I hope that from Monday some people will be able to take comfort from the small steps of progress we are starting to make. Here in Knowsley we are preparing for our town centres to re-open and non-essential retailers to welcome back customers after months of being closed.
It’s a really big moment for many people. Personally, I’m really encouraged to see life returning to our towns in this way. The Council has been working hard to support our local businesses prepare for what will be a very different way of working from Monday, and we will continue to work with them to support them as we go along.
In reopening our town centres, valuable economic and social life-lines are being re-established for many people and businesses which have been so impacted by the pandemic. And, whilst I know I will very much enjoy taking a stroll through Huyton Village or the “townie”, I will also have in my mind that we need to continue to observe social distancing, continue to observe rigorous hand washing, and adhere to all the other guidance.
New rules this weekend also mean that those people who live on their own will now be able to ‘bubble’ with one other household. It means that some families will be reunited under the same roof for the first time in months, and will mean a lot to those who can. I would again ask people not to over-interpret the rules – two households both with more than one person cannot yet bubble together, and the ‘bubble’ must be exclusive, so that you aren’t spending time in more than one other household than your own. This is not a green light for big gatherings or house parties, which could reignite the infection rate and set us back. I’m also really conscious of the fact that those at highest risk from the virus are still shielding and are not enjoying much of a sense of lockdown being eased. Whilst this remains the case, I want to remind anyone who is in need at this time that our Volunteer Hub very much remains available to you – if you need food or essentials, or just somebody to talk to, that’s what they are there for. You can get them by calling Freephone 0800 073 0043 from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and from 10am to 2pm at the weekends.