I’m sure the pictures of 91-year-old Margaret Keenan, the first UK resident to be given the new COVID vaccine on Tuesday, shortly followed by 87-year-old grandfather Dr Hari Shukla, must have touched everyone. I was filled with a mixture of relief, because it allows us to think about a more normal existence… and wonderment at what scientists have achieved in such a short amount of time.
Together we need to keep infections as low as possible over Christmas, the New Year and beyond, until the vaccine programme moves from care and health workers and the vulnerable, to the wider community.
While the vaccine offers hope, I can only echo my Director of Public Health’s warning... sorry (actually, no, I am not sorry) to keep saying this, but we cannot relax yet. We have a hard winter ahead of us to keep controlling COVID. We are still at Tier 3 (Very High Alert), and sadly last week another 12 Solihull residents died from this terrible virus.
Our “digivans” will continue to move out across the borough as we try and keep the “shop safely” message front and centre. I have encouraged you to support our local centres over the past weeks, but do it safely - KEEP YOUR DISTANCE FROM OTHERS, wear a face covering where instructed and finally, wash your hands when you get home!
The Government’s five day Christmas bubble rule could potentially mean spending time with up to two other households. However, the test isn’t “can we?” but “should we?”
As part of our commitment to supporting all vulnerable families over this particularly challenging winter, our Winter Grants Scheme will see us providing vouchers for pupils of families who get free school meals to ensure that no child goes hungry over the Christmas period.
There is no need for anyone to apply for the vouchers as we will identify those eligible and a manual process is being put in place for the small number of parents who do not have an email address.
The scheme has allowed additional provision to be made available to our local community groups and organisations, food networks, as well as crisis support through the Council’s existing Discretionary Crisis Fund (DCF).
Anyone who needs additional help and support can ring Solihull Connect - 0121 704 8100, for information and advice on how to get local community support or financial assistance directly from the DCF.
We also recognise the great work of our local voluntary, community and social enterprise sector groups, which is why we have worked in partnership with the Heart of England Community Foundation, to offer small grants of up to £5,000 to support ideas and proposals which will contribute to the community response to COVID. Read more on this here.
In addition, at full Council on Tuesday we were able announce a further £925,000 of discretionary business grants for hospitality and leisure businesses affected by COVID, which could see businesses get £25,000 in extra support. We are the first Council to offer this additional support and it is testament to our prudent approach to finances that even in the midst of the pandemic we have found these further funds to support our local businesses. The full details are here.
There is still support for other businesses with various grants and loans, alongside business advice.
This pandemic has tested everyone’s mental resilience and I am sure the vast majority of us have experienced stress and sadness which sometimes has resulted in disrupted sleep and anxiety. There is a 24/7 telephone helpline available for people living and working in Solihull who are experiencing mental health difficulties.
The support line offers confidential emotional help, guidance and reassurance for people of all ages and backgrounds, including key workers, who may be finding the current situation we are living with overwhelming. To access the service, call 0121 262 3555, any day, or time.
We also have a service for young people aged 11-25, so they too can get support with their mental health and wellbeing through the Kooth website. It includes 24/7 access to counselling, peer to peer support, self-care tools and resources.
Keep well, keep positive and continue doing the right thing for Solihull.
KEEP YOUR DISTANCE FROM OTHERS
Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council, 10 December 2020