Published on 1 April 2021
Keeping our services running for the good of our district's residents and businesses has been our top priority over the last 12 months - and I'm delighted to say the council has done a great job.
I am the Portfolio Holder for Operations, which involves the day to day running of services such as waste collection, car parks, leisure centres, markets, public toilets and open public spaces.
When the first lockdown was issued last year, it was clear we needed to ensure as many services as possible continued to run if at all possible.
The immediate needs of our residents didn't disappear overnight when the Prime Minister issued his 'stay-at-home' order - so we had to step up.
For many of our residents, their first worry was whether their bins will be collected or not. Some other authorities had made changes to their waste collection policies - and truth be told, at the start of the pandemic nobody was sure whether it could be done in a COVID-safe way.
However, despite the challenges, I'm happy to say we didn't miss a bin collection day - whether that was general waste, garden waste or recycling.
Our contractor for waste collection, Biffa, were absolutely fantastic. They were in touch with me every day to keep me updated on the situation. If any of their staff were off sick, they would draft in another worker from their street cleaning division to fill the gap. My thanks go to Biffa management and their teams.
During the pandemic we have been working on a new pattern of collecting waste from August 2022, a new Material Facilities Recycling Centre, a subscription scheme for the collection of garden waste, a revised car parking strategy and charging schedule, plus dealing with an illegal car meet in one of car parks and late-night antisocial behaviour at two others. It certainly wasn't a quiet time for us.
The pandemic also left certain people in our district very isolated, which meant we had to do all we could to support them. Along with many communities I decided to set up a Community Outreach Service in Wootton Wawen, working with volunteers, local shops, pharmacies and other groups to deliver food and prescriptions to vulnerable people.
At the same time, the council's own Operations Team worked with Warwickshire County Council to deliver hundreds of food parcels to those in need all over the district at the height of the pandemic.
The lack of travelling meant demand for the district's car parks has plummeted over the last 12 months, as people were told to stay at home.
While this has affected the council's income, it also gave us time to modernise our car parks by installing contactless payment - a crucial upgrade considering the widespread move away from cash during the pandemic.
Monitoring our public green spaces was a challenge too - the government guidance through the year was not as clear initially as everyone was learning and no one was quite sure what was safe and what wasn't, which meant we had to make our own judgments on things like keeping playgrounds open and enforcing social distancing in parks.
When the first lockdown was lifted in summer 2020, demand for our green spaces was very high, as visitors flocked to our district to enjoy the scenery. In general, people were well behaved and respected social distancing, and our waste collection teams worked incredibly hard to empty bins which filled up fast thanks to the extra visitors.
We also took the decision to keep our public toilets open. Our view was that we still needed to provide facilities for people who needed them, pandemic or not, and this was ultimately well received.
Safety signs around social distancing and handwashing were put in our toilets, and cleaning teams visited more frequently to make sure hygiene standards were as high as possible.
So it's fair to say the last 12 months have been incredibly busy for the operations department. Our goal now is to make sure Stratford District is as welcoming to locals and visitors as it can be as we ease out of lockdown.
We will continue with our plans to improve the Riverside Green Corridor and Stratford Recreation Ground, assess our car parking strategy as demand hopefully begins to increase, and continue to deliver high-quality services for our residents and businesses.
I'm hopeful that 12 months from now, with the high take-up of the vaccine having had a full effect, the district will be well on its way towards economic recovery.
Stratford-on-Avon District Council
Elizabeth House, Church Street,
Tel: 01789 267575