These have been unprecedented times. Neither my wife nor I have been ‘shielded’ in the 1.5m. We are both well equipped to cope with a period of isolation. We have enjoyed seeing our children and grandchildren on ‘House Party’, and the granddaughters on ‘Tik Tok’. Of course, it is not a substitute for being close to a 5 year old when she is confiding in you her views on the world. The health of one of my sons has also been affected. Nevertheless, I feel that we have been lucky.
I am aware of, and can empathise with, the many for whom this has been a financial and/or personal struggle. My Green Party colleague and friend Councillor Andree Frieze is experiencing bereavement. Her mother, a Strawberry Hill resident, quite suddenly and shockingly died of the virus.
Our Local Government Officers and volunteers immediately rose to the challenge of the lockdown. We may be more fortunate than most London boroughs, but there are essential needs and demands, and they have been anticipated and responded to. We can be proud of the professionalism and commitment of our Councillors, Officers and so many of our residents. This praise is not a courtesy but truly meant.
Home working for most Council staff was quickly implemented. A command structure and a Community Hub were established. Waste Collection experienced only minor disruption, despite the one-third growth in domestic volume from people being at home. Distributing Government grants was pursued with a sense of urgency. Food supplies got to the vulnerable and the homeless were taken off the streets. Townmead Recycling re-opened on May 18th. A phased resumption of primary schools started in June (too early to predict how this will work out). It has felt like a ‘family’ in operation, and I am grateful in recognising what has been achieved in supporting our community.
There has been concern for the potential ‘democratic deficit’ in not being able to function normally. However, through cross-party cooperation, transparency and effective virtual meetings, I feel involved, well-informed and consulted. Richmond has been a leader, getting our virtual democracy functioning in April.
At our virtual full Council Meeting, on May 19th, we approved a change of Mayor. We said goodbye to Councillor Nancy Baldwin and Deputy Mayor James Chard, who had both shone so brightly and personably. We welcomed Councillor Geoff Acton as Mayor and Councillor Julia Cambridge as Deputy Mayor. I am sure that they will be excellent successors and rise above the current obstacles.
Cllr Richard Bennett, South Twickenham Ward. Leader, Green Group Cllr.R.Bennett@richmond.gov.uk