A message from Stoke-on-Trent City Council leader
It’s now 12 weeks since the coronavirus restrictions fundamentally challenged the way we all live, work, socialise and relax. The virus has directly touched all of our lives in ways that none of us have experienced before.
It has brought with it pain, suffering and grief, as the past three months have been hard for us all to take. But with it has come tremendous solidarity as communities, public services, the NHS, businesses and local and voluntary groups have pulled together to keep our city, and our support networks for one another, going.
Never has our city’s motto – United Strength is Stronger – been more fitting. I’ve been so proud to see the way campaigns such as #StokeonTrentTogether – our partnership with voluntary sector partner VAST – have captured the hearts and minds of people across the city in supporting vulnerable residents.
We’ve delivered more than 4,000 food parcels and taken more than 7,500 calls from residents. Alongside that, more than 700 local people and hundreds of businesses and groups have pledged their support as volunteers to collect prescriptions, help with shopping, share a conversation with people who are isolated and on their own, or walk their dogs.
Groups such as The Hubb Foundation have delivered many thousand more food parcels and businesses across the city have pledged their support and resources to supply PPE and equipment for frontline workers delivering care to those who need it the most.
Our own staff have worked in new and radically different ways. We temporarily closed buildings such as museums and leisure centres, and have made more services than ever before available through digital and social media channels. But more than this, staff from those services and other areas of the authority have retrained and been redeployed, with some joining bin crews to keep household waste collections going.
More than 100 staff have undergone intensive training to safeguard vulnerable adults, going into people’s homes to help with welfare checks, medication administration and to safely lift and handle people with mobility difficulties and disabilities.
We recognise the tremendous strain that lockdown has put on businesses, especially the thousands of small businesses that are the lifeblood of our city, and those operating in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector that have had to cease their operations entirely.
We have administered a total of £49.3m in grants to 4,316 small businesses to help them through the unprecedented challenges caused by the coronavirus. We are also giving out £1.3m to 238 further small businesses in discretionary grants – businesses such as market traders, charities and those working out of shared spaces – and we’re looking to make a further wave of £1.5m available in the coming weeks.
We have given out £100,000 to 60 voluntary and community groups who are supporting residents through the coronavirus, so that those groups themselves have the resources to be able to keep going.
And we’re leading the recovery of our city as lockdown eases. From today more registration and learning disability support services will resume. Indoor markets will open from Wednesday. Our markets will all be following social distancing guidelines with one-way systems in place, hand sanitisers available and staff, including volunteers from Stoke City’s community trust, on hand to support and guide visitors.
Motorists visiting town centres and the city centre will be able to park for free on council car parks until the end of June, and people will see a wide range of measures in place to support safe visits to shops and places of work. Through close work with businesses, barriers are in place in busy retail areas, leading to and from restricted entrances and exits, shops have clear signs displayed in their windows show the safety measures they have in place, and stencilled bottle kilns can be seen across the city centre, marking out two metre spaces in front of busy shops.
Work starts back in earnest on the Smithfield development in the city centre bringing forward the Clayworks apartments – the first of their type in the city as well as the new 4 star Hilton hotel while across the city work on other developments such as the Fenton workshops for the blind continue to show why #Stokeisontheup.
Our message to visitors is clear: we are open and ready to welcome you back, with a wide range of steps in place to support you. We have been working on these arrangements for many weeks. But significantly, people must behave responsibly and follow the guidelines to protect themselves and others. The coronavirus is still a very real threat, but if we continue to use our united strength, look out for one another and follow health guidelines, our city will recover to be even stronger.