A Message to the residents of Newry Mourne and Down District Council from Council Chief Executive, Marie Ward.
As we start into the fourth week of our response to COVID-19, I would like to thank residents for their ongoing support as both employees and councillors at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council adapt to the new ‘normal’ at this challenging time.
As a Council, we also appreciate your adherence to the Public Health Agency advice on social distancing and staying at home as we work through this together.
Our staff have put in place measures across the district to ensure that we can continue to deliver services to the public and indeed to create new services to support our communities through COVID-19.
For example, we have been able to continue to deliver our bin collection service without interruption. We have been training staff from across the organisation for redeployment to our frontline services and are pleased to see the feedback for the refuse team has been overwhelmingly positive.
From the week commencing 16 March 2020 we had put in place social distancing measures for our staff in bin lorry cabs and we have now fitted special screens in the cabs to support previous measures. You will appreciate that this service is considerable in size and in the current crisis is subject to daily changes. Our Senior Management Team will review service impacts each morning to enable adjustments to be made as and when required.
We recently announced the development of a Community Coordination Hub set up by the Council to ensure vulnerable residents receive essential supplies is now in operation. We have been working in partnership with colleagues across Local Government, the Health Trusts and the Department for Communities to set up the hub and it is now ready to play its part in delivering the service on the ground. We expect deliveries to start going out to vulnerable groups this week.
Newry Leisure Centre, Down Leisure Centre and Kilkeel Leisure Centre have been repurposed as processing centres to organise deliveries across Newry, Mourne, Down and South Armagh. Other sites are currently being identified should they be required. When fully operational over 100 leisure centre staff will be redeployed to work across all sites. Other staff from across the Council are helping operate a ‘virtual’ hub to coordinate the response. Staff across the organisation are also working in various ways either through remote working or redeployment to other key services.
To ensure the continued operation in the short term of our local Food Banks we have provided £20,000 of funding through our community network.
Our Regeneration and Business Development Team have been actively working with our business community to respond to the challenges they are experiencing due to COVID-19. Over the last fortnight, COVID-19 business guidance has been launched and all government announcements regarding business and financial support packages are being communicated to local businesses. Since 23 March 2020, officers have engaged on a one-to-one basis with 70 businesses on COVID related issues and have been offering guidance on the small business grant scheme, the employee retention scheme, self-employment hardship fund and other support packages that the government has put in place.
The team has also been communicating with the Department for the Economy on issues that businesses are still facing. We have adapted our NMD Business support programmes to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 and have launched three new programmes which have been tailored to address current challenges that local businesses face. We have witnessed an evident uplift in businesses accessing support through this programme of work.
The work that has happened over the last number of weeks has required an immense amount of team work and collaboration and we will continue to adapt and change in response to the challenges that we face in the coming weeks and months.
As we approach the Easter weekend, we are appealing for people to continue to listen to the advice to stay at home and save lives. We have closed all our forest parks and parks across the district and enacted a social media campaign last weekend to encourage social distancing. We will be continuing with this campaign and appealing to parents to know where their children are. We all have a duty to stay well and help prevent the spread of this virus to reduce the pressures on our health workers.
A page has been set up on the Council’s website: www.newrymournedown.org/coronavirus
dedicated to providing the latest guidance and support for residents on COVID-19. This information will be updated regularly as it becomes available. It will also be shared across the Council’s corporate social media channels on Facebook and Twitter. The Council encourages local residents to visit its social media channels for further updates – Facebook: @nmdcouncil and Twitter: @nmdcouncil.
Finally, I would like to thank you as members of the public for your support and patience during this very difficult time. These are stressful and worrying times for everyone as we each consider our own families and friends. It is important that we look out for one another and ensure that we support each other from a mental health and wellbeing perspective.
(Marie Ward, Chief Executive of Newry Mourne and Down District Council.)