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Committed to our communities

Over the past five weeks we have been extremely proud to protect and care for our communities while maintaining essential and enhanced services and supporting our NHS partners. We've been so pleased to hear from feedback that we are making a real difference to people's lives during these unprecedented times.

Your thanks are gratefully received. As public servants operating in a national emergency, we are just doing what we do best, which is to serve our borough, residents and businesses while protecting our vulnerable groups.

In some cases members of staff have been redeployed from their regular jobs and locations into entirely new, more challenging roles.  We are committed to ensuring no one in our borough is without the food and support they need. To date we have redeployed around 60 staff to welfare hubs and community helplines, and staff have approached this with enthusiasm, diligence and sensitivity. We have been recognising this commitment in a series of #GBC Heroes stories, which we have shared via an internal communications campaign, featured on social media and in the Guildford Dragon.  Stories of parking attendants packing food parcels, members of the Electoral Services Team delivering vital supplies and members of the Strategy Team calling vulnerable residents keep the staff connected with each other in these times of change and social distancing.

Our local hubs at Park Barn and Shawfield are providing for our borough's vulnerable groups. Supporting the local hubs are our Customer Service Centre staff and members of the Health and Community Care Services Team who are collating information from thousands of self-referral calls, along with 850 telephone calls received by our community helpline and housing advice services.  These dedicated new phonelines were set up to respond to the crisis and a leaflet detailing the telephone numbers has been delivered to every household in the borough and shared extensively on local social media. This has enabled the delivery of over 3,000 meals on wheels and hundreds of food parcels. 

To date we have made around 2,300 outgoing phone calls to our most vulnerable residents to check that they are ok and have access to food and the services and facilities that they need. One elderly resident was over the moon to receive a call from us and couldn't believe we could help her by picking up her prescription. She got upset when she admitted how independent she normally was and how since her second husband passed away in the early 90s she's always lived and managed on her own. She told us how she loved Guildford and talking to our staff had 'made her day'.

The Community Wellbeing Team are coordinating the food parcels and they've been packing them with thoughtful extras including scam awareness leaflets, activity sheets and well-being news. One Gomshall resident took the time to write and post a note to our offices in Millmead this week following receipt of her food parcel. She sent "a thousand thanks" to staff and said the parcel "lifted her drooping spirits in this dark and traumatic times for our country" while she looked forward to coming out the other side "into bright and better days ahead."

We are part of Surrey's Local Resilience Forum, a multi-agency partnership set up to coordinate public services during emergencies, and as part of the response to Coronavirus we are proud to reopen the Spectrum Leisure Centre as the Surrey hub, providing for Surrey's shielded residents. These are the people at the highest risk from Coronavirus, who have been advised to self-isolate for at least 12 weeks for their safety and the protection of the NHS. Managed by Team Rubicon, the vital work of packing and distributing food parcels is being supported by some of the staff from our Leisure Team.

Leader of the Council, Cllr Caroline Reeves said "I'm so proud to see Guildford playing its part nationally at Spectrum and locally with our hubs at the Park Barn Centre and the Shawfield Centre in Ash running increased meals on wheels and wellbeing checks services. One man in his 90s told us when we called him that he'd asked both neighbours for help and they'd refused. If we hadn't helped who knows what he would have done."

Cllr Reeves added "We have already set aside £50,000 extra funds for our local hubs to ensure we can meet the needs of our vulnerable groups. We are so grateful to all the resident support groups that have started up and we are working with them to ensure we continue to reach those in need."

Areas of our service that are largely hidden from public view are those that devote their time and expertise to providing support for the homeless and rough sleepers in the borough.  In regular times our Housing Advice team work closely with partner companies to identify and support the homeless and rough sleepers in the borough.  Since the outbreak of Coronavirus, a wider group has been put together including HOST, Vaughan House, St Saviours Church, Mulberry House, Guildford Action, Cyrenian House, Experience Guildford and Number Five. This group has been incredible, rehousing rough sleepers and homeless families. Rough sleepers are more susceptible to Coronavirus and they have complex emotional and behavioural needs. As you'd expect the work is extremely intense and challenging. This team has however managed to help all those who are genuinely in need. This work highlights the value of council services to those who are the most vulnerable in our community.

Managing Director of GBC James Whiteman says "Since the outbreak of this pandemic, our Housing Advice team have helped to place 41 vulnerable, homeless people in accommodation. This a great achievement for the team and as their work is so exemplary, they are being called on to help elsewhere in the county. I am so proud of the work that they and all my officers are doing." 

He added "I was pleased that the work of local councils was acknowledged nationally in an open letter from Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on Sunday.  Mr Jenrick praised dedication to the communities we love and serve and said he felt 'truly humbled' by the 'heroic' work we are doing."

Published on Friday 24 April.