With just a week to go until Christmas, this is usually the time of year for office parties and planning visits to friends and family, writes councillor Kieron Williams…
Sadly this has been anything but a normal year and will need to be a very different Christmas too. The coronavirus that has defined 2020 is now spreading very rapidly across London again. In the last few days we have seen the biggest increase in cases in Southwark since April, with rates increasing across all age groups. As a result London is now in tier 3. It’s vital that we all play our part again in getting rates back down, so we can save lives and end the need for these tough new restrictions.
Given the current rapid rise in infections, I encourage you to think very carefully about the best way to keep your family safe this Christmas. We must all follow the current rules, but I also urge you to consider whether meeting with other households over Christmas is a safe thing for you and your family and friends to do, even if the ‘Christmas bubble’ rules allow it. I know that it is incredibly difficult and many people will be deeply missing time with family and friends, but we must be careful. I’ve made the difficult decision not to meet my parents this Christmas, you may want to play safe and do the same.
Whilst the current infection rate is very worrying, it has been wonderful to have good news on vaccinations. The approval of the first vaccine as safe by the UK regulator is an amazing breakthrough. I’m delighted to say vaccinations have now started for Southwark residents at our hospitals and in the community too. At this point the number of doses is very limited so people who are eligible are being contacted direct by the NHS. However we are expecting many more to arrive in the new year, bringing an end to tiers and lockdowns in sight.
As we draw to the end of this most difficult of years, I’d like to say a huge thank you for everything that you and everyone else in Southwark have done to support our community through 2020. Southwark’s response to COVID has been an amazing joint effort by residents, public services, community groups and businesses. Together we have achieved great things in the face of an unprecedented challenge.
Our Community Support Alliance has been a really effective partnership between the council, charities and community groups, thousands of volunteers, the local NHS and GP surgeries. The Alliance has delivered thousands of food packages and made contacts with tens of thousands of vulnerable residents during the pandemic. This week we agreed a further £200,000 of funding from the council for this work. The team is providing support for anyone struggling during the restrictions – you can contact them at www.southwark.gov.uk/coronavirus or call 020 7525 5000 (option 3) Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Alongside the Community Support Alliance, we have supported 5,000 families and individuals through the Southwark Emergency Support Scheme, to cover the cost of food, fuel and other basic essentials. In total, we expect to spend around £3.2 million supporting our residents through the Southwark Emergency Support Scheme and Community Hub this year.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the ‘Everyone In’ approach to get everyone sleeping rough off the streets, resulted in the council re-housing 799 rough sleepers, most of whom have now moved on to long-term accommodation.
Businesses in Southwark have been hit hard by the pandemic, and the council has distributed over £65 million in grants to local businesses, as well as setting up a £2 million business hardship fund. We’ve also been supporting businesses to be COVID safe, offering support, advice and materials to help businesses comply with the national rules, carrying out nearly 5,000 spot checks to businesses since March.
Finally I’d like to encourage you to give to our Southwark Christmas fundraising appeal if you can. We’re working with local charities to bring support and cheer to elderly and vulnerable people in Southwark. Your donations will help make sure those residents feel cared for and connected over Christmas. I would like to thank United St Saviours and St George the Martyr Charity for coordinating the appeal, and to everyone who has already made a donation. The council is match funding donations up to £20,000 and there is still time to make a donation online at: www.spacehive.com/southwark-community-christmas-appeal