From the arrival of COVID-19 in the UK, to the dreadful first wave that saw us move into a national lockdown, through the gradual unlocking over the summer months, and at the time of writing about to enter a second national ‘firebreak’ lockdown, our community response has been nothing short of incredible. Over the next few paragraphs I’d like to revisit the community response from my perspective as the County Councillor for the Llanrhian ward.
I learnt from the ‘Beast from the East’ water shortage in 2018 that there is an important local leadership role in being a Councillor. When the situation started to become very real and threatening in March of this year, it was clear to me that I needed to make sure that I was available and present for those who might need help, so my approach has been to:
- Help lead a co-ordinated approach, but not tread on other’s toes
- Communicate regularly and effectively
- Offer help and support
On the 16th March I posted via my Facebook page and email newsletter a call for volunteers. Within a matter of days nearly 70 people had responded offering to help – in addition to all the ‘silent’ helpers who were already caring for loved ones, friends and neighbours across our community.
As the national picture got worse and worse, with an increasing death toll and giant field-hospitals being built in a matter of weeks, there was a real sense of fear and uncertainty, especially for older people and those with what the government described as ‘underlying health conditions’. By the time the UK had moved into lockdown on 23rd March though, our community was already supporting itself. We had volunteers doing shopping, our local shop and others from St Davids and Fishguard had set up systems for local deliveries (especially valuable as it was taking weeks to get a delivery slot from the big supermarkets), we had a process for prescription collections from St Davids and Solva, our local businesses had set up take-away operations, ‘Hello I can help…’ leaflets had been delivered across the area, and establishing a network of key contacts from Abereiddi to Castlemorris, it felt like a ‘connected community’ that was ready and able to deal with whatever was coming.
The community spirit didn’t end there: we had a ‘guide to zoom’ written and a number of zoom socials, a ‘Connected Community’ App built and a facebook page established, and a magnificent effort from local residents making facemasks free of charge for those in the community and key workers, along with the PATCH and St Davids Food Pod volunteer efforts to help those less fortunate than others. We also had people making friendly phone-calls, taking out neighbours bins, and supporting those who were later instructed to ‘shield’ themselves.
From that initial flurry of activity, things settled down, people established routines, our local shops and establishments adapted, and the amazing community spirit saw friends, family, neighbours and volunteers all helping each other out. On the flip side, there were some community tensions, especially around the visitor economy and interpretation of the rules and guidelines, but thankfully, most people followed the regulations, and where there were genuine concerns these were directed through the correct channels.
We then started to see a gradual ‘unlocking’, with new initiatives like booking systems for the Waste & Recycling Centres, schools reopening before the summer holidays, boats back in the water, the ‘stay local’ restrictions being lifted, and of course unlocking tourism from early July.
The visitor economy is worth £585m p/a to Pembrokeshire, and supports over 11,500 full time equivalent jobs with 80% of tourism operations being micro-businesses. It’s hugely important to our local economy and the council prepared for the unlocking by putting many new initiatives in place. When we did reopen the doors though, Pembrokeshire felt like the busiest place on earth. Throughout that time I was able to support individuals and help local communities, but there were some things that really stretched us across the whole of the county and put a huge strain on council resources. So whilst the council didn’t get everything right, I am encouraged for the future in that the ‘zero to 100’ arrival of tourism highlighted, with a fresh view, the impact of tourism on our communities. It’s something that we definitely need to heed for the future.
Over the past seven months, I’ve never been busier as a County Councillor. I’ve been privileged to be able to support many people and communities, I’ve enjoyed writing a regular email newsletter that now reaches around 250 people, and I remain committed to the principles I outlined above as we enter what might be a long and difficult winter. Looking ahead it’s important that we hold on to that community spirit and continue to support one another through the turbulent times still to come. The last word, however, goes to a Croesgoch resident who sums up our community at its best:
We have never been ones to go out and meet lots of people but we have known that over these last months we have so many ‘friends’ that are there if we needed anything. We have a genuine support system in Croesgoch which we hope never diminishes.Croesgoch Resident