Community Response to Coronavirus

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.

Tom’s thumb – an outstanding volunteer and individual

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.

Cleo’s mass production of face masks

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

My First Podcast

I was really pleased to be asked to contribute to PLANED‘s podcast series recently, where I spoke about my role in the council, but more about the community response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The link to the podcast is here: http://planed.libsyn.com/county-councillor-neil-prior

This was recorded over the phone around 3 weeks into ‘lockdown’, and I reflect on the strength of community support and preparedness.

A Connected Community

On December 12th, a ‘Hub in the Pub’ meeting was held at The Artramont, Croesgoch, organised with local residents to discuss with people who either take a lead in working on behalf of the community, or have ideas on how we can make our place better. The summary that follows explains more:

What is the Connected Community?

The Llanrhian Ward comprises the communities and surrounding areas of Llanrhian, Mathry, Trefin, Croesgoch, Penparc, Castlemorris, Porthgain, Abereiddi, Abercastle, Llandeloy and Square & Compass. Within this area are a number of active community groups which include, but are not limited to:

  • Llanrhian Community Council
  • Mathry Community Council
  • Croesgoch Heritage Group
  • GTI
  • Cor Y Felin
  • Croesgoch WI
  • Mathry WI
  • Llanrhian Social Club
  • Camomile Club
  • Llanrhian Church Hall
  • Cyfefllion Croesgoch
  • Llanrhian Cricket Club
  • Mathry Forum
  • Trefin Arts & Crafts
  • Llais Rhian

Across venues and industries which include:

  • Trefin Village Hall
  • Llanrhian Church Hall
  • Mathry Community Hall
  • 6 pubs
  • 1 school
  • A number of churches and chapels
  • The shop / garage
  • A number of small businesses
  • A large farming community
  • The fishing and tourism industries

We have some isolated communities and people, an increasingly elderly population, a large number of second homes, but a very active community exists with some real community leaders.

We also have an opportunity to use funding from the Enhancing Pembrokeshire Grant (around 25k), and we can use this provided we are supported by 20% match funding in time / expertise / financial contribution.

Thanks also to Llanrhian Community Council who have committed £700 to the Connected Community idea.

In dialogue with a number of people, the thinking is that we can create a more connected community if we work more closely together.

Details of progress to date

Prompted by a well-attended community meeting last year, an Enhancing Pembrokeshire bid was submitted earlier this year by Neil Prior (under the constitutional organisation of Llanrhian Community Council) and approved in principle. The bid was to carry out some minor building works to Ysgol Croesgoch, to safeguard the school so that the school hall can be used as community venue more regularly.

The initial Enhancing Pembrokeshire Grant meeting, held at Ysgol Croesgoch

However, over the course of this year, the school’s needs have taken priority with the possibilities of a Cylch being established there, but we are now in a position to press ahead with a resubmitted bid to get the building works done.

Why the school hall? Despite there being a number of community venues in existence, this is not to compete with them, but does offer a bigger space, Audio Visual equipment, a stage, parking, and to potentially fill a gap in Croesgoch that can open up to further afield. It also helps to promote our school.

The Enhancing Pembrokeshire grant looks to mitigate the impact of second homes, of which there are 83 out of 502 in the Llanrhian Community Council area. Very simply, it’s about promoting cohesive, self-sustained and vibrant communities.

Ideas that have been previously discussed include: Business network and mentoring, fitness and wellbeing (e.g. yoga), intergenerational classes for IT or learning Welsh, that draws in the whole community including our second home owners who may want to contribute.

The Discussion and Ideas:

With a wide-ranging discussion and plenty of contributors, the bullet points below capture our conversation to create a more connected community.

  • Garden show
  • A Social Media page
  • Flyers – for marketing
  • Community hub website
  • Revenue generating events
  • Cinema evenings
  • Musical events
  • Kayleigh dancing
  • Amateur dramatics (invite the Solva group to Croesgoch)
  • A re-run of the Abereiddi show
  • Poetry & Pints
  • Food and drink provision
  • A general catch up option, like the ‘tea & chat’
  • Also making the most of the existing facilities (like Trefin)
  • Fitness classes
  • Remove the barriers – e.g. pubs or churches can put people off
  • Facebook community groups
  • Llais Rhian as the central hub – the communication engine
  • Age group issue – youth club – young farmers
  • Youth leader in Trefin who’d be willing to start a youth club
  • The role of the community council
  • Feeling that the CC could help local causes
  • Bursary idea
  • Welfare committee
  • Barn dance
  • A community consultation / questionnaire
  • Needs to be sustainable, the structure is there (LCC)
  • Reinforce what already exists, but tap into many across the area.
  • Llanrhian Cricket Club – the world cup
  • Something for the people who aren’t here, e.g. PATCH approach
  • First Aid
  • Zumba / Keep Fit
  • Business network
  • The Park in Trefin – this needs sorting (and advertising)
  • Rural issues – Llanrhian – the mini Citizen’s Advice in the community
  • A list of people living on their own – the Solva care model?
  • Lift sharing
  • A baby group in Llanrhian exisits
  • To consider a central co-ordinator

In Summary

The Connected Community is not about the buildings, but the people. The overwhelming feeling was that we could be more connected across our area, and there seemed a genuine appetite from many to get involved.

The notes from the meeting were to be distributed, the Enhanching Pembrokeshire bid is to be re-submitted, and anybody in the community who is interested is invited to get further involved.

Next Steps

The next meeting will be on Thursday 13th February 2020 at The Artramont to progress the ideas discussed in December, but in the meantime, thoughts are invited on some practical actions to move things forward:

· A co-ordinator: it’s suggested that there is an overall co-ordinator for the Connected Community project. Subject to discussion, agreement and funding, this position could attract a small remuneration and would require overseeing the community project, from liaising with community members to schedule events, source the relevant resources, assign tasks to volunteers, help prepare budgets and act as a point of contact to all community members. Do you know anyone who might be interested?

· A name for the community venture.

· Volunteering. A few people have put themselves forward for volunteer positions. In order for this venture to work, we asked that people give of their time not only to attend events, but to help run them as well so are asking people to think about which skills they have and how much time they can spare.

. Considering a published list of all those involved in the community venture. This might include contact details, location and skills.

Do you have an idea? Would you like to get involved? If so, please do get in touch.