“2020 will be a year we will never forget. There is no escaping that it has been a tough one for many on us, but the cruel effects of the Coronavirus across our lives has seen our communities grow stronger,” said Councillor Bob Standley, Leader of Conservative-run Wealden District, speaking at the end of the year.
“As soon as the first lockdown began last March, support groups were springing up in our villages and towns, some involving existing organisations, and some completely new ones. Within a very short period of time, there were some 80 volunteer groups delivering food and medicines and providing a vital social link to households that were self-isolating.
“Their efforts have been co-ordinated through the Council’s Wealden Community Hub, ensuring that no need was left unattended. It has been a tremendous effort. Their services continue to be needed as we enter hopefully what will be the final stages of this terrible pandemic.
“Both councillors and officers have been actively supporting our local communities. At short notice, the Council made over £40 million worth of payments to local businesses through the Discretionary Grant Scheme and a further £1 million is being paid out through the Additional Restrictions Grants which were introduced in November. We directly supported the community hub helpers through our Covid Crisis Grant Scheme and Community Grants Recovery Fund. The Chairman’s Community Heroes awards has recognised some of the great work that volunteers have been doing throughout the Crisis.
“The closures and changing regulations have been frustrating for many local businesses. Environmental Health Officers have been at the forefront, providing advice and reassurance, both for businesses and local shoppers. Our fast-track approach to planning enabled food service outlets to keep their customers served. Using the Government’s Re-opening High Streets Safely fund, we have launched a Shop and Dine Well in Wealden campaign to reassure people that Wealden’s high streets are safe and enjoyable places to visit while adhering to government guidance.
“Back in July, we began looking ahead to a new future, with the launch of our Restart and Recovery programme. I am now very excited as we see opportunities open up to create a positive legacy for the future,” added Cllr Standley. “We are currently seeking your views about our new Local Plan which focusses on combatting climate change, meeting housing need and regenerating our town centres. A further consultation about our ambitious programme to regenerate Hailsham, Hailsham Aspires, will begin in the New Year. Last month we announced plans for improved leisure facilities at Crowborough and Hailsham, and a new health centre for Mayfield. We have also proposed to keep the Wealden part of the District’s council tax pegged at its current rate.
“Wealden has long had a large commuter population. But changing working practices will see an increase in people working from home, putting more money in the local economy, reducing traffic pollution and increasing demand for high quality leisure opportunities. We are proud of our beautiful countryside and will continue to protect it for the benefit of all.
“The Covid vaccination programme is now well underway in Wealden. We may yet have a few difficult months, but I am in no doubt that the prospects for 2021 are bright
Wealden District Council has been able to continue to provide essential services throughout the pandemic, including refuse and recycling collections, benefits, supporting businesses, local housing needs and the crematorium.
“Thanks to the investment we have made in new technology, many of our staff have been working from home since March, which has given us an added resilience,” said Wealden’s Chief Executive, Trevor Scott. “Juggling the twin workloads of providing our usual essential services whilst also responding to the pandemic has been an enormous undertaking. For many, it may have seemed like living at work rather than working from home. I would like to thank all our staff, Councillors, Biffa refuse crews and our other partners for their hard work, dedication and flexibility over this difficult year.
“Increasingly we have seen the benefits of doing more online, including holding council meetings and talking to customers. We will use these advances to enhance our services for the future.”