England & Wales Communities and society, Covid-19

Covid-19 community support at Leeds City Council

Photo by Andre Ouellet on Unsplash

Hannah Bithell, joint winner of the Covid-19 Hero category at the 2020 LGIU & CCLA Cllr Awards and councillor at Leeds City Council tells us more about the work that she has done to help residents during the pandemic.

I have had the hardest time trying to write this blog post! One of the issues of being a councillor for a really thriving community is that you are of course very busy! When we started last March to design those first safety nets for residents, none of us in the community could have imagined I would be writing about this work almost a year later whilst in our third national lockdown. Many of those safety nets, implemented when the Covid-19 crisis first unfolded, are now an integral part of our community.

Some of the projects we started, like the Men’s Walking Group, have had to be put on hold, but many of them, such as the uniform exchange and the work we are doing to increase communication between third sector organisations, are going from strength to strength. With winter drawing in and the snow falling outside, we have had a harder time being able to do our garden food banks, but have managed to support residents with their shopping and deliveries. This is especially important 9 months on from March, where newborn nappies have suddenly become an urgent commodity. Who knew that thousands of nappies took up SO much space in a car!

We have also had to create other new initiatives around free school meals and technology collections for pupils unable to access remote learning and locate new ways to engage with young people to ensure that their voices are heard in local government decision making. One of the wonderful things about Leeds City Council is our devolved decision making to local areas of the city and with this, our devolved budgets. Before the pandemic, we would hold an annual youth summit, but due to Covid restrictions, this has not been possible. In order to give young people a voice, we have created the Inner West Youth Community Committee, who will have a seat at the Community Committee table and who will also meet to drive forward campaigns in our local area. We have introduced a winter swap shop where people can choose to send winter clothing they no longer need – other residents can then request this clothing, ensuring that everyone has the equipment to get outside and do their exercise.

I would like to thank all of the people who are doing so much in my ward. It blows my mind that when I put a shout out on Facebook for something, how effectively our residents respond to the call – they are truly amazing. If you add to this the community leaders and third sector organisations that are pulling together to help make Kirkstall so successful, we really have a winning team and we are forever indebted to you.

As a teacher myself, one of the hardest jobs is juggling councillor responsibilities in this crisis and doing the rest of my front line work (made eminently harder by the pandemic). I know I am not alone in this and we have councillors who are A&E nurses, teachers, third sector staff and many others. A huge shout out to all of you for holding it all together at this time!

Find out more about the winners of the 2020 Awards here.

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