Telford council leader lifts lid on 'surreal' coronavirus challenges and hails 'fantastic' team effort
Shutting libraries, leisure centres and cultural facilities in response to the coronavirus pandemic was a “surreal” experience that felt like “decommissioning” Telford & Wrekin Council, its leader has said.
But Councillor Shaun Davies said it was necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19 and divert staff to other areas like the council call centre and the home delivery service for free school meals.
Speaking from his home in a council podcast, Councillor Davies praised the authority’s staff for their “fantastic team effort” and said public feedback had been “really heartening”.
See below for the podcast:
Councillor Davies said he had been meeting with his cabinet colleagues “four or five times” via video calls.
“The first week it was really surreal because, effectively, what we were doing was decommissioning the council,” he said.
“We were closing things like the libraries, the theatre, the ice rink, leisure centres and parks.”
More Covid-19 coverage:
- Coronavirus: Live updates as Boris Johnson fights virus in intensive care
- See the latest coronavirus stories from Shropshire and beyond
- Coronavirus: Latest number of deaths and confirmed cases in Shropshire, Telford and Mid Wales
- Star Neighbours - how you can give and get help locally
Ketley and Overdale councillor Eileen Callear was recently appointed as cabinet member responsible for leisure, libraries and culture.
Councillor Davies said: “Within a week of starting we’d effectively closed down the whole of her portfolio.
“But what that has left is the core services where we absolutely need to make a huge effort in supporting our communities.”
This, he said, included delivering more than 5,500 daily free school meals to schoolchildren’s homes and the council playing its part in Operation Shield, a Government scheme to deliver packages of food and other essentials to 1,500,000 vulnerable people nationwide.
Councillor Davies said staff had been moved from their regular jobs to other tasks, like staffing the “call centre”, which does not physically exist now but consists of call handlers working out of their own homes, and providing free school meals for the borough’s eligible children.
“Within literally hours of the government deciding to close schools, we had to understand what was the quickest, safest way to get food to some of the most vulnerable kids in Telford and Wrekin,” he said.
“Clearly, one option was that kids came to their school as normal. The difficulty with that was it would spread coronavirus around much faster, it defeated the object of schools closing.
“So what we were able to do was divert around 150 members of our team right across the council, from planners to leisure assistants, and to use our fleet bus service to get our members of staff out.
“That’s a huge logistical nightmare right there.
“It was nothing short of a fantastic team effort and, what was really heartening as well is the appreciation that our staff found from people on the doorstep and, indeed, the emails I’ve received as well.
“Because, as a council, we didn’t have to step in. We could have waited for a national scheme to come in – there is one coming after the Easter holidays – but we decided it was really important. We very quickly went into that space and filled that void.”
The Telford & Wrekin Council Coronavirus Podcast is available on the authority’s YouTube channel.
Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.