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Letter from Councillor Iain Malcolm, Leader of the Council - August 2020

The last few months have been very unsettling and challenging. We have each played our individual part in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and, as a community, we have come together to support and protect family, neighbours and workers in the NHS, care and other key sectors. We have all been, and continue to be, affected by COVID-19 - tragically some more than others.

At the outset of the pandemic, I wrote to every household to provide information and contact telephone numbers to support residents, particularly those who had been advised by the Government that they were required to 'shield' at home.

Where residents told us they had no support network, we provided help to access vital food, medical and wellbeing support through our shielding service, run by Council staff from Hebburn Central, with support from the third sector. At the same time, we increased the financial support we give the Borough's three main food banks which use well-established networks to reach people across South Tyneside, also identifying wider needs such as loneliness, safeguarding, mental and financial wellbeing.

We made sure that no child in South Tyneside went hungry. We provided packed lunches for any family eligible for free school meals that requested one and are working with our local third sector to deliver family food hampers to any family that self-refers for one. In the summer holidays we will be working in partnership with KEY2Life project which is providing free picnics for families, while we have created a number of family-friendly fun walking trails to help them explore the great outdoors and enjoy all that the Borough has to offer.

We have continued to deliver the essential frontline services that you rely on. Refuse collection, adult and children's social care, and many more, were maintained and we adapted our working practices to ensure disrupted services were brought back as safely and swiftly as possible.

Your Council continues to be here to support you. As lockdown eases, we need to respond both as individuals and as a Council, to ensure we minimise the risk of spreading the coronavirus. As we move to our new future, we must continue to follow the critical public health advice - maintaining social distancing, washing our hands thoroughly and regularly, and using face coverings, where appropriate. We regularly update information at www.southtyneside.gov.uk/coronavirus and on the Council's social media pages as well as information in the newsletter which is distributed to every household.

We have published a Local Outbreak Control Plan, which outlines the measures needed to get any localised outbreak under control quickly - such as testing, contact tracing and support for organisations as well as ongoing advice on how residents and businesses can keep themselves safe. We are well prepared.

Back in March when I last wrote to you, the Council had taken a number of immediate actions to provide much needed financial, physical and emotion wellbeing support to those who needed it. We expanded the Council's welfare support scheme to support more people suffering financial difficulty and we quickly put in place measures to support our local business community. We have administered over £25m in grants and support to thousands of businesses across South Tyneside.

Our 'Shop Safe' initiative has helped our high streets reopen and we will continue to support our leisure and cultural sector as they come though some of the most difficult challenges in recent times. Now, more than ever, our local traders, particularly independent retailers, need all of our support to help them to bounce back from this crisis. It's important that we support local businesses to give them the practical - and moral - support they so desperately need.

The world as we knew it has changed significantly during 2020. But some things will never change. South Tyneside's strong community spirit and incredible army of volunteers is something that really make us stand out. I am proud of those people from across the borough who have played a part in supporting others, be that as part of a group or acting alone. You can read some of the stories in the newsletter and at our website campaigns.southtyneside.gov.uk/proud/#stories Our #Proudtosupport campaign has seen almost 300 nominations, with each individual or group receiving a personal 'Thank You' letter for the part they have played in supporting others during this crisis.

The sacrifices of so many means that we have helped contain the spread of the virus but we cannot afford to be complacent. It is up to each and every one of us to continue to follow the guidance and act responsibly to keep our communities safe.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Iain Malcolm
Leader of the Council

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