Leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council
We all know Bath is a special place and this has really been brought home to me over the past few months. Covid-19 has had an impact on us all. Tragically, some have lost their lives, others have been left to grieve and many more will be living with the health consequences of this illness for a long time.
Many businesses have been hit hard due to the lockdown; parents are still juggling working from home with educating their children and others are worried about the future of their jobs.
However, through adversity, the very best of humanity shines through. I’ve been moved by the dedication of our key workers, the countless stories of neighbours helping each other out. Our traders in high streets and local centres across Bath and North East Somerset have done amazing things to help local communities. We have shown that we are a Compassionate Community and I hope that will prove to be the legacy of these testing times.
Through adversity, the very best of humanity shines through
Our Compassionate Community Hub has supported thousands of vulnerable people since lockdown, delivering emergency food parcels, collecting prescriptions and providing benefits and well-being advice. The Hub team – which includes the CCG, Virgincare and local 3rd sector organisation 3SG – can call on 2,400 volunteers and will continue to provide vital support throughout the pandemic and beyond. Again, this shows the depth of community spirit across our area.
Recovery and renewal will be no less challenging than lockdown itself. Covid-19 is still very much with us and people must feel safe if they are to be encouraged to return to a more normal way of life. Social distancing is the ‘new normal’, and we must adapt.
We’ve been working hard on measures to help people socially distance as they go about their everyday life. We’ve widened some pavements and introduced access restrictions on some roads to enable pedestrians to pass each other safely. While these measures are temporary, we will regularly review their impact. The council has changed how it does business too. Our meetings are now conducted on Zoom and streamed on YouTube and we hold webinars to give people a bigger say, continuing conversations and starting new ones about issues that matter right now.
As restrictions ease we want people to shop local and use local businesses. That’s essential if the local economy is to bounce back. We are incredibly fortunate to have had so many local shops and businesses support us all through lockdown. The council is currently working to help them by promoting and highlighting the incredible offerings we have on our own doorsteps.
We know that social distancing rules will have a big impact on business. Central government has recently relaxed some of the regulations on outside tables and chairs. In a vibrant heritage city such as ours we always need to balance the potential benefits of an alfresco café culture against the impacts this can have on local residents – including disabled people and people with prams and pushchairs.
I think a really clear sign that Bath is once again open for business is the reopening of the Roman Baths Museum. Visitors will notice that the Baths will be operating at just one-third of normal capacity. Pre-booking will be essential, a one-way system will be in operation and visitors requested to maintain two-metre physical distancing. However, while it is great news that the Roman Baths are opening its doors once again, we recognise we’ve got to address our over-reliance on mass tourism and we very much want to welcome residents to enjoy our local heritage attractions.
The pandemic has given us the opportunity to reflect on how we do things and reassess our priorities. For example, it’s brought into focus the need to move more quickly to a cleaner, greener future.
With fewer vehicles on the roads during lockdown we enjoyed improved air quality and as a result of being encouraged to take daily exercise more people are now walking and cycling. We need to maintain the momentum and encourage a permanent shift to sustainable transport use. We are also encouraging residents to suggest locations where we can develop Liveable Neighbourhoods, where vehicle use will be reduced and walking and cycling encouraged. We have set up a special website for you to record your views, which so far has received over 10,000 visits.
The pandemic has given us the opportunity to reflect on how we do things and reassess our priorities
I hope we will also emerge from this crisis with a stronger sense of community, a greater willingness to help the most vulnerable, a deeper sense of empathy and tolerance, and a new-found appreciation of our beautiful environment, across our city and surrounding rural area of North East Somerset.
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