Response to COVID-19
Response to COVID-19
Christmas is almost upon us and the doors and shop windows of many businesses that were closed during the Level 5 restrictions are now back open. Our towns are getting busy again. People are spending money, shopping local and supporting local businesses and jobs.
Despite the Christmas trade, 2020 has been a very difficult year for many businesses in our county. Longford County Council has provided a range of supports to businesses to help keep them afloat through restrictions and reduced trade. Our Local Enterprise office supported hundreds of small enterprises with Business Continuity Vouchers, COVID Mentoring and Trading Online Vouchers. Our Rates office processed almost 700 Business Restart Grants. In addition, Longford County Council has given a Commercial Rates waiver to eligible businesses, including the vast majority of SMEs, for the 9 months since the pandemic took hold, supported by a €900 million special funding allocation from the Government.
Financial assistance is only one side of our business support. Enabling trade in a safe and responsible environment is the other. We’ve worked with the business community to reimagine and design our towns so that citizens feel comfortable and safe whilst shopping and going about their business. We have three areas of focus:
- Providing safer public spaces for business and communities.
- Helping businesses to trade, by facilitating click-and-collect areas and ‘pick-up and delivery’ services, permitting increased opening hours and waiving licence fees for on-street furniture.
- Activation measures to help keep people safe, such as collaboration with the creative sector to enliven public areas.
The already strong relationship with our businesses has been deepened on the back of strong cooperation from them to ensure appropriate communications and public signage on adherence to public health guidelines.
The New Year will, of course, bring many of the same challenges for businesses that they have faced throughout 2020. The first quarter of any year is often challenging for businesses. We will continue to respond to requests from the hospitality and retail sector for ways to accommodate and stimulate increased consumer demand. Local tourism will also be important during the first part of 2021. The council is working with the sector to identify and utilise opportunities for collaboration, including promotion of destinations to attract domestic tourism. Center Parcs’ Longford Forest will reopen over the Christmas and New Year period and are offering some very attractive rates to visitors who would like to experience all they have to offer.
Switching off and engaging in any kind of creative activity can be a powerful means to good mental health. We will continue to work with our artists and creatives to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to experience some form of creativity, for example, reading, photography, cookery, art, music, knitting and gardening.
Whilst the economy will continue to need support, we also recognize the importance of supporting our local communities’ health and wellbeing and keeping them connected. At the end of March, we established a Community Call Forum in partnership with representatives from across the public, community and voluntary sectors and the charity ALONE.
Since March we have provided a helpline to coordinate a response to those in need of social or practical supports because of their circumstances during the pandemic. This has included the delivery of food, groceries, medicines and other services to those who have needed them. We have also provided support for those experiencing loneliness and isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, the helpline has received over 425 calls. Our helpline remains open to those who need help, those who know someone who needs help, or those who want to volunteer and provide help.
The Community Call Helpline can be contacted at: 1800 300 122. This new service is being provided alongside our regular day-to-day services and the Keep Well campaign which was launched by government recently to help build more resilient, healthy and well-informed communities. Our Sports Partnership team continue to deliver an exciting programme to encourage all ages to be active and get outdoors. The Civil Defence volunteers provided support to communities and individuals through various initiatives and interventions, including delivery of COVID-19 sample for testing and distribution of books, food parcels and information leaflets.
During the period of the pandemic the Council’s employees had to adapt to new ways of working whilst continuing to deliver the wide range of services to the citizens without interruption, for example, parks and playground services, road maintenance, construction works, housing maintenance, environmental awareness, water quality monitoring and planning services. Our support services continue to ensure that we have the resources necessary to deliver quality services during these challenging times.
Our library service is one example where Local Authorities had to quickly adapt and reach out to our customers in new and innovative ways. Although our library doors were closed for some of the time our employees were able to deliver a wide range of online services including ebooks and eaudio books, all the latest magazines and newspapers, e- learning courses and a home delivery service for the housebound. In addition, a diverse programme of online events and videos to cater for all ages from young children to our older citizens continues to be delivered in collaboration with local artists, tutors and creatives. To find out more check out www.longfordlibrary.ie or Longford Libraries’ Facebook or YouTube.
Central to the Council’s work this year are our Elected Members. They have worked hard with employees and different sectors such as the business community to produce solutions and supports for the unprecedented times we are in. They took difficult budgetary decisions after careful scrutiny of the options. Like all employees in the Council, our Elected Members responded and adapted to revised work practices to keep the show on the road. Reflecting the unprecedented and extraordinary times earlier in the year our Council meetings moved quickly online to facilitate and enable our Elected Members continue to lead, serve and represent our citizens throughout the county. Our Council Meetings now continue, being held with a blended remote and physical attendance. Throughout the county our Elected Members’ response to the challenges of the global pandemic has fuelled a deep sense of community during these challenging times.
The Council proactively communicates with innovative approaches to keep the people of Longford informed as we respond to and continue to live with COVID-19. Our primary focus is to ensure our citizens are informed, reminded of the importance of adhering to COVID-19 public health advice and keeping them up to date with work of all sections of the Council in supporting our citizens and communities.
The Council promoted national campaigns of #InThisTogether, #StaySafe and #HoldFirm in addition to our own local social media campaigns including ‘Stronger Together – Local Action’. Authentic image-based content and Longford focused messaging are a feature of the Council’s innovative approaches in keeping our citizens informed.
2021 will undoubtedly bring many challenges to the communities and businesses of County Longford. But it will also bring new opportunities for the Council to work collaboratively with businesses, organisations and communities to find new ways to protect our citizens and local economy, for the times we are in, and beyond.
To keep up to date with all this happening check out www.longfordcoco.ie and our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.