This week, we marked one year since the start of the first Covid-19 lockdown. The intervening 12 months have been unlike any other year in living memory.
Since the start of the first Covid-19 lockdown on 23 March 2020, North Yorkshire – like the rest of the United Kingdom and the world – has seen its share of tragedies and challenges, but also tremendous resilience and community spirit.
For those working with and alongside the County Council, these months have been a period of rapid change, strength and commitment to support those in need through strong partnerships.
County Council Leader Cllr Carl Les said: “There can be few, if any, of us in North Yorkshire who have not felt the impact of the pandemic. To date, the county has lost 1,129 lives. That’s more than a number, it’s personal. Behind every one of those 1,129 is a human story and grieving family and friends. This day of reflection is an opportunity to acknowledge those lives.
“It is also a time to remember the challenges we have faced in the past year and the commitment, innovation and kindness of our communities that has seen us rise to meet those challenges and to support those residents who have needed extra help.”
This has included the ground-breaking work with 23 community support organisations around the county and the army of volunteers that they have organised to ensure that no-one in need of help goes without. Since last March, volunteers have given an incredible 110,000 hours of their time to delivering shopping and other essentials as well as making more than 56,000 befriending calls and telephone check-ins.
Other examples include the incredible efforts by schools and early years settings to make sure that children and young people continued their education remotely during lockdown and to support the children of key workers.
Community groups and council staff give their personal reflections on the past 12 months
At the start of the lockdown last spring, the County Council set up Buy Local, an online platform to bring together businesses serving North Yorkshire with customers. This will continue beyond the lifting of restrictions to showcase local businesses and help people to buy local as the economy recovers post-pandemic. Businesses can register at Buy Local, where shoppers can also search for goods and services.
Library staff and volunteers have also worked incredibly hard to keep in touch with their communities online and through a select and collect service. Since last March, more than 270,000 e-books have been loaned and the home library service has continued to reach residents who struggle to get out and about.
Cllr Les added: “In addition, there are the less visible heroes of the pandemic, such as social care workers, foster carers, highways teams, trading standards officers and household waste recycling centre staff, working flat out to maintain vital services across the county. Particularly our customer service centre colleagues, who have taken an incredible 234,653 calls during the last year.”
Among the services that had to react and adapt to the pandemic at greatest speed were public health and adult social care.
Cllr Michael Harrison, who is vice-chair of the County’s Outbreak Management Advisory Board and who also leads on adult social care and the County Council’s work with the NHS, said: “In a matter of ten days we completely changed how adult social care operates, so that we could respond even more quickly to help people with Covid-19, as well as others in our communities.”
This included redeploying 2,000 staff to work around hospitals and GP surgeries.
With the NHS, Public Health created a testing service for the county, which put North Yorkshire in a strong position to have local testing and mobile testing in rural areas. Practical support was stepped up for the county’s 235 care homes and hundreds of home care agencies, and, ahead of national policy, safer discharge beds were set up for people leaving hospital after having Covid-19 to offer some safety and protection.
Following feedback from a young disabled man who lives in a care home, the County Council worked with care home residents, their loved ones and care providers to encourage safe care home visiting back in the autumn – in pods, through windows and via technology.
“The pandemic has changed public health and adult social care,” said Michael. “We always talk about public health being everybody’s business, but this year it has absolutely been in the forefront of people’s lives. Public health has genuinely become everybody’s business, because that’s what this pandemic has been about.
“Our adult social care service has fundamentally changed how it works. We have strengthened the working between adult social care and public health and our way of working with the NHS. A lot of good work done to support places to be covid-secure has been undertaken with colleagues from environmental health and trading standards, and we have done some really good work, particularly in Scarborough, with housing teams around people at risk of spreading the virus.”
Operation Talla in Scarborough and Whitby, before Christmas, and similar exercises in November, saw multi-agency teams and volunteers undertaking work street-by-street to explain the Covid restrictions and to offer testing and explain the support that was available to keep people safe.