Last week, our COVID-19 Recovery Plan was agreed by our councillors, and so I thought it would be good to tell you about our plans for the community recovery.

It's really important that I start by recognising how amazing our communities have been over this challenging time. The parishes immediately stepped up and assisted those who were vulnerable in their communities. We also had a huge response from people who wanted to volunteer - literally hundreds of people.

In addition to this, the response from the charitable and voluntary sectors has been invaluable. In particular, we have been working with Stonepillow, Four Streets and HEART to support rough sleepers and move them into accommodation. We have also been working in partnership with Voluntary Action Arun and Chichester which helped co-ordinate volunteers to support vulnerable people.

What's key, is that we build on this and make sure that we are well prepared if we experience a second wave of COVID-19. Due to this, we are going to signpost small voluntary groups to Voluntary Action Arun and Chichester to potentially formalise their offer. We're also going to map all of the offers of volunteer support across the district and identify any gaps in provision. We're also going to continue working closely with parish councils to make sure that they continue to review and test their emergency plans. They have played an absolutely critical role in this crisis and we need to make sure that they have the support they need to continue with this fantastic work.

During the crisis we moved rough sleepers into private accommodation. The crisis provided us with a unique opportunity to address rough sleeping in the district. From 23 March almost all of the known rough sleepers have been accommodated - and I'm pleased to say that this has continued to the current date. What is fantastic is that this stability has enabled some of these individuals to make significant and beneficial changes to their lives.

It isn't just about finding accommodation - it's about making sure that people who need it can access a package of support. The success that we have seen has been due to the commitment and partnership between the council, Stonepillow, Four Streets and HEART.

Our challenge now is to build on this progress by securing medium and long term accommodation, which will allow people to move on from nightly placements. What's important is that we prevent a return to the levels of rough sleeping seen in Chichester at the end of last year. As part of this, we need to educate people that providing money to rough sleepers isn't the best way of helping them. To assist with this, we are currently developing a 'diverted giving' campaign, which will encourage people to donate to local homeless charities rather than give money to rough sleepers directly. By doing this, donations can be used to offer the right help and support, and enable people to truly transform their lives.

The number of households needing temporary accommodation is at an exceptional level due to COVID-19. We are also expecting to see a spike in homelessness applications due to increased unemployment, debt and family breakdown following the lockdown.

We have identified a number of actions to take in response to this. In the short term, we want to focus on moving people out of temporary accommodation and our emergency accommodation by expanding our Homefinder service. This will involve offering incentives to landlords to join the scheme.

In the medium term, we want to focus on prevention and to make sure that there is fair access to social housing.

In the long term, we want to review everything we have learnt and build on this. Our new short stay accommodation for people facing homelessness will also have been built by this point, also offering us further options. This will provide an additional 17 flats for people who are homeless and will make a real long-term difference to those who need our support the most.

During this crisis, we have also been focusing on financial support for individuals and businesses that need help. Since the crisis, the Government has provided us with a hardship fund amounting to just over £699,000; £37 million for businesses in receipt of Small Business Rate Grants; and £1.85 million in expanded business rate grants. We recognise that many people will be struggling and so our recovery teams who deal with debt are also making sure that people know about the support that is available to them, including schemes such as council tax reduction and discretionary housing payments which can assist with council tax bills and rent payments.

We've also seen how voluntary and community organisations are struggling to financially cope during this crisis. Although there is some government support available, this depends on the circumstances of each group. Due to this, we are setting up a one off fund of £250,000 as a Community Recovery Grants fund for 2020/21 only. This will support established voluntary groups who have either been financially impacted by COVID 19 and need to maintain levels of service of increased demand; or require funding for innovative projects to support recovery in the community.

We're also reviewing business grants. There may be businesses who have so far failed to qualify for one of the government grants and so we are setting up a one-off fund of £250,000 as an Economic Recovery Grants fund for 2020/21.

Finally, I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has volunteered or supported our communities during this time. I just want you to know how much it has been appreciated and how grateful we have been for your commitment and dedication.

Best Wishes

Cllr Roy Briscoe

Cabinet Member for Culture and Community Services at Chichester District Council

Date: 29 July 2020