The Borough with a Big Heart

Judy Sarsby writes:

When I saw the call Care4Calais put out for winter coats and boots for the refugees living in the French camps, I knew people in my borough, who had responded so well to the shout out for PPE in care homes, would respond. And they did. Elmbridge Excelled!  I shall be travelling to Calais on the 21st and will now be taking a large van, as the donations have flooded in from all around Elmbridge.

I work as a volunteer for the charity Elmbridge Can who help refugees settle in the borough, so I was not surprised when my colleagues stepped up. Their generosity and the generosity of the Elmbridge Lib Dems, of friends and of locals from Claygate to Weybridge has been exceptional. One chap got the whole street in Claygate involved and, after filling the car last week, I am going back again for more. 

I put a word out to friends in the Weybridge Rowing Club and had parcels left in the changing rooms and on the mail box at all hours. Given how much we all cleared out during lockdown the response has been wonderful. There are no words for the generosity extended by our people to those people in Calais so desperately in need. We would like to thank each and every one of those who donated for the kindness of their contribution.

The charity Care4Calais https://care4calais.org/donate-now/  supports refugees sleeping rough across France and Belgium. This drive is particularly focused on the immediate need to keep people warm and dry, not an easy task when most live in tents or makeshift shelters. The bitter cold of winter has now moved in and people are trying to stay alive in freezing conditions. 

During my time working with Elmbridge Can, local acquaintances have referred to my work with “illegal immigrants”. It saddens me that these people are not aware that refugees are not illegal immigrants. The people I help don’t want to enter our country illegally – the problem is that the situation in their home countries means they have to leave to protect themselves and their children. If you come from a country that is at war or you live under oppression it’s unlikely that country will issue you with a passport or visa, so there is no legal way for them to travel.

My granddaughter asked why our Syrian friends left their home. I explained that their home was bombed, the schools and the shops closed, their lives were at risk and life just couldn’t go on as normal. I said I hoped if that happened to us that someone would care enough to help. The refugee crisis is one of the greatest humanitarian issues of our generation and how we respond will define us for years to come. In Elmbridge, this month, we showed that we care enough to at least try and give what others so desperately need.

 

Volunteering during the lockdowns

An interview with Cllr Ashley Tilling 

Focus: How did you get involved with volunteering during the Covid-19 pandemic?  

When the national call for NHS Volunteers was broadcast in April I put my name forward. But for a couple of weeks I heard nothing. I then​ bumped into a neighbour who was involved in the Surrey First Responder volunteer scheme – organising the collection and delivery of medicines to people who were shielding, isolating or too ill to go out. He was very happy for me to join his small team.

Focus: How does the scheme work? 

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I received a list of prescriptions requiring to be picked up from pharmacies and to whom they were to be delivered. Some of these were marked urgent, so needed to be collected that afternoon, while others could wait until the following morning. 

Focus: Typically how many people were on your list?

Usually between four and six scattered around Elmbridge. I decided to use the scheme to try to keep fit and so dusted off my road bike. A typical route would be from Weybridge to Hersham, Esher, Claygate, Thames Ditton, Molesey and back via Walton on Thames, collecting and delivering along the way. Between April and July, I had made well over 80 deliveries all over Elmbridge. I was also recently called up again and helped during ‘Lockdown 2’. 

Focus: Have there been any challenges?   

Sometimes I would turn up at a pharmacy to find that they had not received the prescription on my list – it then took some persuasion and co-operation from the pharmacist to sort this out with the issuing GP practices. Finding the location for a delivery could also be a headache – a lucky encounter with a passing postman once helped!

A regular Weybridge recipient comments:

“We are so grateful for our prescriptions being delivered. Both my husband and I have multiple prescriptions, all cheerfully delivered. We have shielded since before the first lockdown and are so looking forward to the vaccination. Thank you to all those who have worked delivering our medicines”.

 

Desborough Island

The vision I think we should all support is for Desborough Island to be an outdoor, green sports facility that utilises this beautiful Weybridge island to its maximum potential. Outdoor sport can go hand in hand with diverse wildlife, the new proposed Wetlands and enhancing the appeal of the green spaces.

Currently on the island we have rugby, football, cricket and netball. Rowing and canoeing have long been sports enjoyed on the river and, this year, paddle boarding and wild swimming saw a huge increase in participation so that more and different people enjoyed the outdoor sports our river has to offer.

It could be even better. We could have a running path and cycle circuit all around the island and boating facilities for sports people with a disability. If we were to develop the existing area of Vandals and maybe employ a caretaker-come ranger to maintain the facilities and patrol the island, we would have an enviable green outside sport and wildlife island for all local residents to enjoy throughout the year.

We should cherish this beautiful site and look after the wildlife whilst enhancing our outdoor sports facilities for people of all ages and abilities.

Judy Sarsby

Why Elmbridge is in Tier Two – Updated

Elmbridge moved into Tier Two at a minute past midnight on the morning of Saturday 17 October. Many people are wondering what information this decision was based on.

We have been told that the decision to go ‘high’ is based on a variety of factors, not just case numbers. Trends and direction of travel are important as well as absolute values. Elmbridge Borough Council appear to believe that transmission was widespread rather than concentrated in specific clusters. On their website they write “There is evidence of widespread community transmission, not just with clusters. Therefore swift action had to be taken to try to prevent a further rise in cases in Elmbridge.”
See https://www.elmbridge.gov.uk/news/coronavirus-covid-19-updates/high-alert-what-it-means/

By putting several weekly reports of the Covid 19 stats for Elmbridge into a table (below) it is possible to see trends in Elmbridge.  What is clear is that in early October there was a sharp increase in cases and this has continued through to 16th October.

Data reported below is taken from the tables produced weekly by Surrey County Council’s Public Health Team, and published on the Surrey County Council website at https://www.surreycc.gov.uk

Table showing weekly and fortnightly cases of Covid 19 in Elmbridge over the period late September to end October.
Since the introduction of Tier Two measures, the data show a decrease in the rate of growth of numbers testing positive.

Improvement since 16 October?
Data added since we went into Tier Two is showing first a slowing of the rate of increase and by 30th October a decrease. The rise in 14 day figures between 16 October and 23 October is 33 cases, just 1.1 times as many in the previous full measurement period and between 23 October and 30 October we actually see a fall in number of cases.

Let’s hope this is a sustained trend and not just a blip.  As this period corresponds with the school half term, it is wise to wait a couple of weeks to see if this fall is due to fewer tests being taken or is the beginning of a sustained decrease.

Are figures distorted by students away from home testing positive?

On their website EBC say “We know some of you are wondering if students testing positive elsewhere has contributed to Elmbridge’s rising cases. We did look very carefully at the data around students leaving home in Elmbridge, testing positive elsewhere and that being reported as Elmbridge data, but it only accounted for around 14% of cases which does not change the escalating trend we’ve seen or the higher numbers compared with elsewhere.”

How to get a test if you need one
In its latest advice to residents (published on Friday 23 October), Elmbridge Borough Council (EBC) advise that we now have mobile testing units in the borough as well as home testing kits. Tests are available for people who have coronavirus symptoms:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss of, or change to, your sense of smell or taste

and must be booked through the Government website: get-coronavirus-test

Financial support for individuals self-isolating
The EBC website also supplies advice on support that is available to eligible residents i.e. those receiving benefits and working who have had to stay at home and self-isolate after receiving a notification from NHS Test and Trace or a positive test result. See: test-and-trace-support-payments

Support for businesses
Government has also announced additional funding to support businesses via cash grants of up to £2,100 per month. These are primarily for businesses in the hospitality, accommodation and leisure sector who may be adversely impacted by the restrictions in high-alert level areas.  Government guidance on the operation of this scheme is not yet available.  When it is, it will be published on the EBC website at: business-grants

 

Proposed improvements to our town paths

The Brooklands Accessibility Project has been a major scheme to provide safer walking and cycling between Weybridge and Brooklands. So far this has provided the new path along Heath Road to the station, a wider path with a tarmacadam surface from Lonsdale Road to Seven Arches Bridge, and improvements to the path past Brooklands Museum, through the park and onto the A245.

Phase Four of the project was dependent on the cost of the first three phases but it was envisaged that some money would be available to improve the route into Weybridge town centre. This phase takes the route from the crossing on Heath Road, along Melrose Road and makes use of the paths around the allotments and Churchfields Park to finish in the town. These are a wonderful asset at the heart of the town and give a very pleasant option for residents away from the noise and risk of using the roads. To make these paths safer for all users, Phase Four proposes to widen the paths by clearing the earth alongside the fence sections around the allotments, cutting back any overhanging vegetation and laying macadam up to the fence edge.

I have proposed that a small section of allotment fencing near the skate park should be moved back in order to smooth out the rather dangerous right angled corner. 

I have also asked Surrey County Council’s Project Manager for the current cut-through track (see photo) to Churchfields car park be formally implemented as a better option for users going to the town centre than the path that goes to Church Lane and to the roundabout at the Church Street/Balfour Road junction. Furthermore, I am hoping that there will be enough money to pay for much-needed lighting of the path alongside the playground section.

 

Town Centre Traffic – a radical approach

A Radical Approach to Town Centre Traffic and Regeneration

We often wonder what will help our High Street survive and thrive. In Weybridge, through traffic is a significant negative feature and we believe that removing this traffic, which simply goes through our town, would help our High Street flourish.

Why and how would we do this?
One of the many things we have learned through the Covid 19 crisis is the value and importance of our open spaces – Churchfields Park, The Cricket Green and, for the more adventurous, Desborough Island. These have proved invaluable and well-used. What we lack in Weybridge is town centre open spaces and we will need these to help re-establish the once thriving cafe culture of our town.

The questions are where to have open spaces and how will we create them?
We are talking here about pedestrian spaces in our town centre. And in Weybridge, this would mean stopping traffic driving through the town centre itself. Impossible? Too radical to even think of!!?

Well, let’s think about it for a moment before we dismiss the idea. And let’s think in terms of how could this benefit the town, its businesses and its residents? Let’s think also in terms of what town centre services local residents will want to be able to access by car, what habitual behaviours may we need to modify and what we already do differently because of the pandemic? How many of those working at home will continue to do so? Quite a few we believe. How many of us now walk or cycle to do our shopping? Do you remember in March and early April, amidst all our concerns about the virus and how we would cope in lockdown, the bliss of a quiet, traffic free High Street? We could have this again and permanently, or something close to this.

Through traffic or a piazza and performance space?
Much of our congestion in Weybridge is caused by people driving through our High Street to get somewhere else. This does not build a thriving town. This through traffic would cease and find other routes if we created a small piazza straddling the High Street between Lloyds Bank and Robert Dyas. This could be a space for enjoying an outdoor coffee and chat – rather like Singaporean food courts, where you can buy from anywhere.  Flexibly designed, it could be transformed into a performance space. There would, of course, have to be a route through for emergency vehicles, as we see so often in European towns with pedestrianised centres.

Which services do we absolutely need to get to by car?
Clearly some people need to use a car for all services, but all these would still be accessible, just sometimes with a slightly longer journey. With less traffic this need not be slower. For local people, access to medical services with parking will remain an important element, and of course will be possible with this plan, as access to Churchfields Car Park remains open.  Banks will continue to be accessible from Churchfields and, with quieter streets, it may even be possible to increase short stay on-street parking, especially for Blue Badge holders. Truly, the only downside is a slightly longer journey for some, and for most doing this there will be the benefit of quieter roads.

But  . . .  
By now you might be wondering who loses in this scenario and what will happen to local traffic wanting to access the other end of town? And won’t new rat runs be created?

For sure the whole town wins from a re-energised centre, cleaner air, a place for people to gather safely. There would still be access to Churchfields Car Park from Church Street and Balfour Road and to Baker Street from the High Street (though this might be managed so that there was only one lane and pavements in Baker Street were widened, creating a second open space).

The level of traffic would be very much lower and Baker Street would no longer be a rat run used by people in a hurry to get somewhere.

The people most likely to lose out are the households on and off Heath Road who will lose direct access to the supermarket end of the High Street. If they wanted to drive to shop there, they would have to travel via the Station roundabout and Hanger Hill and approach via Monument Hill. This would put two (?) miles on their round journey.

It’s also the case that residents on and off Baker Street would need to take a longer journey to exit Weybridge along the A 317 and to get to the medical centre by car.  But improved pavements could mean that some, who would prefer to walk there or use a mobility scooter, would be safer.

What about new rat runs?
For such a change to work, residential streets which could become alternative routes for through drivers will need to be protected. This can be done. Streets we have identified as needing protection are: Portmore Park Road, and streets off it, and Elgin Road. Can you think of others? The simplest form of protection for these would be barriers or ‘rising’ bollards which are controlled to allow residents, their carers and visitors to pass into the street. This can be done using number plate recognition.

Other issues?
Yes, this would be a bold move! Maybe there are other problems associated with this idea.  But isn’t it time we adjusted the balance in our town?

How your local Foodbank has kept going during lockdown

People in Weybridge are sometimes perplexed that Foodbank donations from Weybridge shoppers go to the Runnymede Foodbank. They also ask where donations can be made and how the distribution service has been managed since it left St James’s Parish Church in March.

We are happy to report that, since lockdown, the Foodbank has continued to provide food parcels to local residents and throughout the parliamentary constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge. But some things have changed. To find out more, we turned to Runnymede Borough Council (RBC) colleagues for an update.

What we discovered was the major contribution RBC has made and how two of our Lib Dem colleagues on RBC have helped since lockdown. At a very early stage in lockdown, the manager of the Runnymede Foodbank highlighted to the RBC Community Services Committee his very serious concerns on how to maintain the service with rising levels of need, limited warehouse accommodation and some volunteers self-isolating.

RBC stepped in to help the Foodbank by providing warehouse accommodation and councillors volunteered to help keep the service going. The new warehouse facility near Egham became fully operational on the 6th April.  Initially RBC councillors managed the warehousing and distribution service on a 7 day a week basis, aided by local volunteers from across the borough. A substantial number of new volunteers have been working alongside established volunteers since this time.

Under pandemic conditions the Foodbank has run differently. All requested provisions are now delivered to households rather than being collected from the foodbank.  This was seen as essential to maintain social distancing for volunteers. This also meant there could be deliveries to those who were self-isolating.

The Chertsey Foodbank management team, who were unfortunately laid low with Covid-19 early on, have been progressively taking back the management responsibility from the RBC councillors. And the RBC councillors who kept the Foodbank going are now returning to other duties. While the RBC input drew on all parties, two Lyne Lib Dem councillors played a very significant part in keeping the operation going. These are Theresa Burton who organised volunteer staffing, developed the systems to support the operation and liaised with the Chertsey Foodbank charity team, and Don Whyte who has been managing the warehouse two days a week.

If you want to make your contribution to keeping this very valuable service going then there are many ways in which you can help.  You can donate items at Morrisons and Waitrose; you can make a financial contribution; you can organise a street collection and you can volunteer. Volunteering is done a flexible basis, so volunteers can chip in when they are free and do not have to make a firm commitment to being somewhere every week for a specific time.

If you plan to donate goods or run a street collection, please be aware that currently the most needed items are:

  • Laundry powder or liquid
  • Washing up liquid
  • Shampoo
  • Deodorant
  • Soap
  • Canned pasta – spaghetti, macaroni cheeses, etc
  • Sponge puddings
  • Rice

Please give generously: https://runnymede.foodbank.org.uk

 

Foodbank information

Runnymede & Weybridge Foodbank

Tel: 01932 838 383

Runnymede Borough Council is taking all calls for residents in Weybridge. They are operating a full doorstep delivery service to all foodbank clients. See the Runnymede Foodbank website

Foodbank Donations

Waitrose has a donation point for long life foodstuffs and there are volunteers around Weybridge who are acting as collection points.

Financial Donations

Foodbanks welcome assistance in the form of financial donations so that they can buy essential items such as nappies and sanitary products which are not normally donated. For Weybridge, a new donations page has been set up: Weybridge donations

Alternatively, a financial donation can be made to the Trussell Trust, who look after more than 1,200 food bank centres across the UK.  They provide a minimum of three days emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis.

  • Make a one-off donation to the Trussell Trust;  or
  • Text TRUSSELL then your amount (eg TRUSSELL 5 for a £5 donation) to 70085

PPE for Care Homes

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On the second Thursday of “clapping for carers” it was encouraging to see so many venture on to the street and cheer and clap near our local care home. The co-owner of Heath Lodge reached out and explained they had a confirmed case of Covid-19 within one of their homes and were seriously short of PPE. I’m not a medic or key worker, but this instantly reminded me I had a skill set to offer! I had retired from my sourcing and manufacturing company five years earlier but now could reopen the lines of communication and search for reliable makers and suppliers of masks and gowns. I contacted my old  colleagues and we set to work. Vicki Macleod, helped connect us with a government official who put us in touch directly with the NHS Procurement team.  We are now feeding through details and estimates for manufacturing and supplying PPE, including gowns. We’re also trying to help local hospitals, care homes and key workers through Surrey County Council.

The time difference makes for a long day and insomnia has never proved more welcome to working practice! NHS technical specifications, safety standards and test reports certainly maintain focus. We’re not there yet, there is a substantial need still to be met. But by doing something I know how to do well, that may ultimately bring protection to so many who give so much to others, is without question, a privilege.