I have been so impressed with the vaccination programme over the last few weeks, and it is heartening to see that over 13 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Anyone aged 70 or over who has not yet received a first dose of the COVID vaccination or an appointment to receive it can now book one by calling 119 or visiting the NHS website. Please do encourage your family and friends who are eligible to do this. Appointments via this link are at the local mass vaccination centres in Birmingham, so anyone who would prefer to have one with their GP should please wait to hear from them.
I’m delighted to hear that so many social care staff, employed by the many different local social care providers and organisations, have been vaccinated. This helps to reduce risks for vulnerable people who need the support of others and keep our workforce safer. If there are any social care providers who still need information on how to access vaccinations for your staff, please email firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible.
As our schools close at the end of this week for the half term break, I would like to thank all school staff for their hard work in delivering high quality remote education for our children over the past six weeks. The need to switch, at very short notice, to a remote learning programme, in addition to accommodating critical worker children and those with additional needs in-school, has been a huge undertaking.
I am also hugely mindful of the difficulty for parents and carers juggling home schooling and their own work commitments. But as more and more of our residents are vaccinated, it will allow us to edge towards some level of normality as soon as possible.
I hope teachers and parents alike are able to enjoy their well-deserved break – it may be very different to previous school holidays, but we must remember that we are still in the midst of the pandemic, so it’s really important that we all stay local and don’t mix households. Public Health England have produced a helpful blog on how to stay safe over the break.
Support will be provided over the February half term to families in receipt of benefits-related free school meals, in the form of a supermarket gift voucher. In recognition of the additional costs and bills families face during this winter period, we have increased the proportional value of the voucher, compared to the assistance provided at Christmas. The scheme has also been extended to include approximately 275 care experienced young people. There is no need to apply for the voucher, families will be contacted via email with details of how to redeem the gift card. Please contact Solihull Connect via 0121 704 8001 with any queries.
We are committed to helping all vulnerable families and individuals over this particularly challenging winter period. Details on additional food provision and essential utilities can be found on our website, including the Discretionary Crisis Fund, in place to provide financial and fuel assistance to any household experiencing severe financial hardship, including access to food, fuel top-ups and, if needed, essential white goods.
Furthermore, three voluntary and community sector organisations in Solihull (Children’s Storehouse, Act on Energy and Age UK Solihull), have been granted a total of £162,000 from the Winter Support Grant, to assist our elderly, vulnerable people and families to pay their fuel bills, access gas, electricity and oil supplies, as well as winter clothing. An estimated 2000 people across the borough will benefit from this support.
Last week I mentioned our vision for a new forest, and this week I’m pleased to provide an update about the ‘Planting Our Future’ programme, which aims to plant at least 250,000 trees over the next 10 years. Over the last week we have planted two community Orchards in Shirley Park and Palmers Rough/Jacey Park, 720 whips (small trees) within Knowle Park and a further 16 Heavy Standards lining the pathway there, all supplied by the Woodland Trust.
It is wonderful to see the progress being made on this important programme – the benefits that these trees will bring over time cannot be underestimated. I am told that more are being delivered next week!
Another part of our strategy to reach Net Zero Carbon emissions by 2041 is to put into practice all sorts of measures to help people move towards more sustainable means of travel. One of these measures is the installation of three new bicycle repair stations in the borough, which will help our local cyclists as they travel. The stations have been financed using the Government’s emergency active travel funding and have been positioned in locations which have lots of cyclists. Find out more about them here.
Lastly, I know some businesses are really struggling to keep on top of the changing guidance and want to ensure they keep their businesses and staff as safe as possible. Our Director of Public Health, Ruth Tennant, recorded a really useful ‘on demand’ webinar for businesses last week which goes through the different types of COVID testing, the DOs and DON’Ts of self-isolation and other flash points like coffee breaks, car sharing and risk assessments. As you would expect from Ruth, it’s clear and thorough and I’d recommend signing up for it. It’s free and runs for about 15 minutes, you’ll just need to register with your email address here. You’ll also see that there are lots of other resources for businesses including support for staff who are struggling with anxiety or their mental health.
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council