The Prime Minister announced on Monday (23 March) that the country is now locked down. All non-essential shops are now to close, with only food stores, hardware shops, chemists, petrol stations and newsagents allowed to open. We have all been asked to stay at home, unless we have urgent reason to leave, such as medical appointments, popping out for our shopping, or going to work if we really can't do this from home. We have also been told that we can go out to exercise once a day, but this must only be with our household members.

I want to assure you, that as your local district council, we are working around the clock with our public sector partners to support you - our residents and businesses. Our focus will be on the most vulnerable - those who can't go out to do their shopping and who don't have family and friends who can help; those who can't afford to pay their bills; and those who do not have a roof over their heads. This is in addition to running vital services, such as collecting your household waste and supporting local businesses.

The government has announced a package of support for businesses and residents to help them through these difficult times. Our teams have been busy identifying those that are eligible for business rate support and we are in the process of writing to them. Further support is also on its way for both businesses and those residents who are struggling - and as soon as we have the details from the government we will respond immediately.

We've also been working in partnership with West Sussex County Council, which is setting up a volunteer hub, that will be up and running this week. There will be a dedicated phone line, which will be announced as soon as possible. Alternatively, people can email volunteering@westsussex.gov.uk if they want to offer help or communities@westsussex.gov.uk if they want to find out or let us know what community activity is in place. What's critical at times like this is that we are working together to support our most vulnerable. Please support family members and neighbours by making sure that they have the food and medication they need. This means that we can focus our efforts on supporting those who are alone and don't have anyone. By working together we can make sure that the vulnerable in our communities are safe and supported. We are lucky in the district that we have so many generous people who are already doing this - so I'd like to say a personal thank you to those already offering this support, including our own community wardens.

We are also working closely with the Chichester Food Bank. They are currently offering an appointment service to those who need their help. This is so that they can make sure that social distancing measures are in place. They can be contacted at info@chichesterdistrict.foodbank.org.uk or on 01243 773687.

I want to assure you that we are also doing everything we can to help rough sleepers during the current crisis. We are especially conscious that rough sleepers face particular health risks and so we have identified a variety of short term accommodation options for all of the known rough sleepers in Chichester. A very small number of people may refuse this, and in these cases we will provide advice and guidance around the need for self-isolation and signpost to the support that is available. We will continue to support rough sleepers once they are in accommodation by making sure that they have a phone and are in regular contact with a key worker. Support will also be available through Stonepillow day centres in Chichester and Bognor, which are offering access to food and other services. It is worth noting that in order to meet social distancing guidance, the centres are limited to a certain number of people at any one time. We are supporting this work by providing staff to assist Stonepillow at the Chichester Hub. 

Please remember that our teams are also here to support you if you are at risk of being made homeless, or you are unable to pay your rent.

We have also been in touch with our local NHS colleagues to say that their staff can use one of our Chichester car parks for free. We are in awe of the work that they are carrying out and we hope this helps them in a small way. We are also suspending parking charges in all of our car parks across the district for the next three weeks to support essential services. 

What you can be sure of is that, along with our public sector partners, we are here to help and support you at this really difficult time.

What's vital is that we all join together to support one another. Please phone friends and neighbours who live alone and give them access to that vital lifeline that they need. Support family members with food parcels and messages of support. Please encourage older family members who can't get out not to panic. Together, we can make this work and we will get through it.

As a council, we have dedicated web pages at www.chichester.gov.uk/coronavirus to support residents and businesses with information on our critical services - from council tax, to business support, to volunteering, to homelessness. These pages also provide you with updates on the status of our services, including waste and recycling collections. This information is being updated daily. We are also providing regular updates on our social media pages www.twitter.com/ChichesterDC and www.facebook.com/ChichesterDistrictCouncil

We realise not everyone has access to a computer. If you do not have online access and are struggling to cope with bills; become homeless, or are worried about your business, please call us on 01243 785166.

We ask just one thing of you. Please bear with us. Although it might take some time to get through to us on the phone, or it might take a little longer to pick up your rubbish - we will help you. We are absolutely committed to supporting our residents and businesses through this turbulent time and through working together, I am confident we will do this.

Thank you once again to all of those who are helping to tackle this massive challenge - volunteers, public sector workers, food stores, community groups, utility companies - and most of all our NHS. I am so proud to be working alongside you.

 

Cllr Eileen Lintill

Leader of Chichester District Council