Edinburgh's civic leaders look back on a year like no other on anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown

Tomorrow the UK will fall silent in a national day of reflection to mark the one-year anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 4:45 pm

Here, council leaders and some key workers look back on a year like no other in Scotland’s capital city, described by Edinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey as “a year of real trauma but also one of incredible resilience”.

Councillor McVey said: "The pandemic has dramatically affected everyone’s lives over the past year. As Edinburgh joins the minute’s silence to remember those who have sadly lost their lives during this crisis, including some of our own colleagues, and to show support for those who’ve been bereaved, it is a time for us all to pause, reflect and remember.

“This has been a year of real trauma but also one of incredible resilience. I have never been prouder to lead this council – the organisation has gone above and beyond to keep essential services going and look after this city and all our residents.

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'A year of real trauma' - Council leader Adam McVey

“Since March 2020, council services have had to change significantly to respond to the urgent and critical support needed in our communities. From care workers to refuse collectors, teaching staff to those helping families in crisis, our officers have been doing, and continue to do, an amazing job, working with unfaltering dedication for over a year now to cope with this incredibly challenging and ever-changing situation."

Depute leader Cammy Day added: "On this poignant anniversary of the first national lockdown it’s important to reflect on what we’ve lost over such a difficult year. But it’s also helpful to look ahead and consider the steps we can take towards healing.

“All our services have faced challenges and pressures they’d never encountered before. In a huge cross-council effort, we’ve seen our welfare and benefit teams strengthened to provide immediate support to those in financial crisis, brought in measures to support families who need school meal payments and food parcels and we're providing childcare support to some of our city's key workers.

“We’re immensely grateful to the people of Edinburgh for the way they’ve pulled together and looked after one another, listening to the public health messaging and following the guidance to keep everyone safe.

Depute leader Cammy Day said he is 'immensely grateful' to the people of Edinburgh

“One day, and I hope it’s soon, I predict we’ll look back on this as a very difficult but at the same time inspiring period in our city’s recent history when team Edinburgh truly shone.”

One of the ways the council reacted was setting up schools as hub for key worker children and providing targeted support for other pupils:

Alexa Pope, Head Teacher at Juniper Green Primary School said: “Last year we closed the doors believing that in a couple of weeks we would be back together again and life would quickly get back to normal. I can’t believe that that was almost a whole year ago and life has still not returned to normal.

“One of the significant events in the lockdown of 2020, of which there were many, was the reopening of Juniper Green as a hub for 11 schools in the north west of Edinburgh. At the time I was the acting head teacher and had just managed to switch our school to online learning, which was challenging enough, but the complexities of providing essential child care and support to the children of key workers was another challenge that as a team we tackled head on.

“The hub, or ‘the Kindness Club’, as it was named by the children who were accessing it was amazing. The staff of the schools worked together with the common goal of ensuring that they provided a safe, calm and fun place for every child to be. New friendships were formed, plans for future play dates were arranged and staff from the different schools enjoyed being part of a fantastic team.

“By the end of June we really did feel like a family and closing the doors once again on the last day of the summer term was harder than we all expected it to be.”

Council worker Kasia Kzpolska, who has been a food waste driver throughout the pandemic, said: “I’m very happy, it has been hard but this job is always going to have to be done. As people have mainly been at home it is like Christmas every day with the amount of food waste we are collecting.

“It’s lovely to see the children waving at us and I find people generally to be very kind. Traditionally, some people leave gifts for waste crews at Christmas but we’ve been seeing this more over the last year which had been really nice and greatly appreciated. One thing that has made things a bit easier is that there has been less traffic on the roads and less people on the streets so we can get about the city quicker.”

Services also had to adapt with officers changing their everyday roles. Colleagues in Early Years were tasked with providing food boxes for families in need across the city.

Paula Greenhill, Early Years and Childcare Manager said: “From early April until the beginning of September we organised the delivery of 300 food boxes, every two weeks. The boxes were delivered to families who had children under 5-years-old and who needed additional support. They were packed, distributed and delivered within a two-hour window with great support from the Mitie team and other colleagues. The speed at which I can pack a food box has greatly improved. Early years staff and social workers who knew the families best delivered the food boxes to those who needed them.

“The supplies were gratefully received by the families and staff shared that the children were so excited and eager to open the box to see what was inside. Although the boxes had to be left on a doorstep or at the end of a path to reduce transmission, many parents shared that seeing someone they knew was a great comfort and that they appreciated the connection. Staff shared that by delivering the boxes they were able to sign post parents to further supports if required.

“Many families shared that nappies, baby food and changing supplies were difficult to access due to variety of reasons and as a response a large amount of these were also distributed with the food boxes. Over the weeks we added support leaflets, books, play packs, transitions story book and a teddy bear to the food boxes.”

The council’s response to Covid:

Help was given to around 19,000 local businesses to get grant funding, paying out around £181.4m in coronavirus business support grants since March 2020.

Employability providers spent 853,160 minutes supporting people to access training, employment or learning opportunities. More than1,500 people went on to secure a job, training or other positive outcome following support.

A total of £146,600 has been awarded to small businesses to help them recruit young people and help those with additional barriers to getting a job.

Its Advice Shop has assisted 4000 people to obtain information and advice regarding benefits and debt matters.

Over £8.5m in financial gains has been achieved for Edinburgh citizens including those who have lost work, have significant health issues or are struggling to afford life’s essentials.

Council Resilience Centres gave dedicated assistance to customers requiring an emergency homeless and temporary accommodation service – reducing rough sleeping in the city to less than 10 people each night, and all families were taken out of temporary B&B accommodation.

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