Hello from Hayleigh & Sarah
Hello! It is still hard to believe how much things have changed in the past three months. Just as we had started to adapt to lockdown life, it seems that the Government are now easing the restrictions at pace. As we try and adapt to the “new normal”, we hope that you and your families are keeping well, staying safe and taking on the changing situation at a pace which suits you. We’re now looking ahead at a summer period without the usual village events that we all so enjoy. However, we hope that Blewbury residents are still able to make the most of the sunny weather over the next few months, by spending quality time with family and friends in a socially distant way.
As the council itself is now also returning to a new kind of normal, we’ve decided to stop our regular coronavirus-focused updates and return to our monthly updates in the form of newsletter articles and parish council reports. We will of course continue to keep you updated on the council’s response to COVID-19 through these monthly updates, as well as on our dedicated councillor Facebook Page: Cllrs Hayleigh Gascoigne & Sarah Medley. As always, please do not hesitate to get in touch with any issues or concerns – our email addresses are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whilst we don’t know how long the UK’s response to and recovery from COVID-19 will take, we do know it’s likely to be some time so the Vale of White Horse District Council is making some changes to its community hub services to make sure the response is sustainable over the coming months: Lines will now be open from Monday to Saturday, 9am to 6pm.
Both the staff and community groups have responded positively to the challenges of this crisis to make sure our vulnerable residents receive the support they need. Amazing work is being done by the volunteer groups in our communities as well as the staff at the Vale who have done what they always do, which is pull together, be solution focussed and support each other.
To contact the Community Support Team:
call: 01235 422 600
Remember, for the most up-to-date coronavirus information relating to district council support and any changes to services, please take a look at the dedicated Vale webpage for updates: www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/covid19
1-7th June was National Volunteers’ week and this year more than ever before, we have seen the positive impact that volunteers can have on our local communities. Within days of lockdown starting, charities and voluntary groups in our districts were helping those in need. As it became clear more support was required hundreds of residents set up informal help groups in their local communities to make sure their most vulnerable and isolated neighbours were able to get help. They used the powers of social media to recruit other volunteers and to get the message out to those who needed it. They also used more traditional methods to reach people, such as telephone calls, door-knocking and posting home-made leaflets through their neighbours’ doors. There’s no doubt these local heroes have saved lives in their communities – they have been the backbone of the country’s response to the crisis.
Black Lives Matter
The deeply saddening news from the US about George Floyd’s murder, and what it represents, sends a clear message that racism still runs deep within society and our communities. For us personally, this event, and the reaction to it, has given us a chance to stop, reflect and really think about what we can do in our roles as part of this agenda. It is our duty. We all need to stop, to listen and to educate ourselves, to play our part in shaping a fairer society.
Back in December 2019, the Vale of White Horse District Council passed a motion to update their equality policy to condemn all hate crimes and to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism, and the APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group) definition of Islamophobia. At the time, Cllr Hayleigh Gascoigne gave a speech in support of the motion, using the opportunity to reflect on her personal experience of racism. The video of Hayleigh’s speech is publicly available on our Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/HayleighAndSarah/videos/302932501103708/
At the Vale of White Horse District Council, we believe in equality, fairness and inclusion. Passing this motion was just a small part of a bigger picture. The recent letter from both South and Vale district council leaders highlights that we are fiercely committed to giving a voice to and representing all who suffer discrimination, persecution, hatred or injustice. We have copied the text of the letter below, or it can be read online at
An open letter from Cllr Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, and Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council.
As we come to the end of Volunteering Week, we wanted to express our heartfelt thanks and gratitude, on behalf of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils, to all of the incredible volunteers who have stepped up to the plate over the past couple of months to make an enormous difference to their communities.
It was just over two months ago that the government announced the lockdown to try and control the coronavirus and keep the public safe. The method required to keep us safe also meant a significant number of very vulnerable people were suddenly completely unable to carry out the kind of normal day-to-day task we used to take for granted. This also applied to a whole new group of people who never previously needed any support with their lives.
Within days of the lockdown being announced, a staggering number of people had, without being asked, leapt to their feet to make sure everybody in their local community had what they needed. They set up shopping and food delivery services, they collect prescriptions, they walk dogs, and they are even just there to have a friendly chat with people who feel isolated and lonely.
It’s incredibly heart-warming to see the selflessness and care with which these wonderful volunteers go about their work. In local government we talk a lot about community, which is a word that can mean different things to different people, but we believe in the past two months we’ve seen what that word really means.
Not only did these incredible volunteers step up to the plate at the start of the lockdown when their neighbours – and countless people they’d never met – needed them, but they continue to do so, day in, day out, tirelessly. We’re incredibly proud to be able to help link these volunteers together and to provide a service to ensure they are able reach the people who need them.
It’s quite difficult to put into words the depth of the gratitude we feel for all the volunteers in our district helping our communities make it through these difficult times, but on behalf of our councils and council staff, we’d like to say an enormous thank you. You are the best.
The importance of that selfless care and solidarity among communities has been thrown into sharp focus with other events in the world at the moment. Like many of you, we share in the sadness, horror and anger at the death of George Floyd in the US, and at the unfolding events that have followed.
On the surface it might not appear to be a local issue, but discrimination exists everywhere and this loss of an innocent life highlights just one of the ways it can manifest itself.
Time and again around the world, innocent people are persecuted, discriminated against and killed purely because of the colour of their skin or where they were born. It’s devastating that we’re well into the 21st Century and this remains an issue.
We share in the global outrage about this issue and it’s wrong to remain silent. At South Oxfordshire and the Vale we are fiercely committed to giving a voice to and representing all who suffer discrimination, persecution, hatred or injustice.
We practice equality, fairness and inclusion, and we believe in everybody – whoever you are, you are most welcome here. Through many of our services we work hard to ensure marginalised and isolated members of communities get all the support they need.
No one need accept injustice, no one is without a voice, but sometimes they need others to help their voice to be heard, and so we stand with all of our residents in saying we are absolutely committed to help create equal society for all.
Stay safe, continue to take care of each other, and please take care of yourselves.
Cllr Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council
Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council
Updates on County Council cycle projects
The county council has announced some urgent improvements they’re going to make to Oxfordshire’s cycling infrastructure, including the following pledges for our districts:
- New cycle parking in all market towns.
- Installing dashed markings to highlight cycle areas.
- Extra cycle racks at Thornhill park and ‘pedal’
- Removing A boards from narrow high streets.
- Refreshing existing cycle lanes (where required).
- Additional grass cutting on cycle routes.
Personally, we feel that this first round of improvements don’t go nearly far enough to address the huge deficiencies in cycling provision in the area around Blewbury, as there is clearly a lot of work to be done to make cycling more inclusive and accessible to cyclists of all ages and abilities. We are however encouraged to see that the County Council is now welcoming feedback from residents on how the next phase of government funding should be used, and we urge all Blewbury residents to fill this in to highlight areas for improvement in or around the village: www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/activetravel
Parking charges have been re-introduced in district council car parks across South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse since Monday 8 June. South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils have allowed people to park for free since 26 March to support key workers and those who need to shop for essential food or medical supplies during the Coronavirus pandemic after travel restrictions were put in place.
However with many restrictions now lifted, and following the government’s announcement that outdoor markets and car showrooms can re-open on 1 June and non-essential retail on 15 June, the councils will now re-introduce parking fees in order to improve the availability of parking spaces as people start to visit local shops again. This will also help to encourage people to consider using more sustainable travel methods when visiting our town centres.
Car parks will operate as normal, meaning that motorists must display a ticket or have a valid online or text payment confirmation, including during any free hours offered in the charging period. Normal rates will apply. New permits will be issued or re-issued to anyone whose permit would’ve normally expired since lockdown began. NHS staff and care workers who display the official HM Government COVID-19 parking pass can continue to park for free. To claim a pass, they need to contact their employer who will issue a permit to park in all council car parks.
Remote committee meetings starting to take place
A number of meetings have now taken place including the Planning Committee, the Oxfordshire Growth Board and the Climate Emergency Advisory committee.
Councillors are using Microsoft Teams to take part in the meetings and members of the public are able to watch online via a link. For details on how members of the public can submit statements or questions to be considered by a committee or council meeting please visit whitehorsedc.gov.uk/meetings.
Once councillors and officers have got used to the new process and are confident that meetings can be carried out effectively and within the guidelines, the councils will look to introduce online public participation by live video. The first meeting of the Full Council will take place online on 15th July.
Oxfordshire Growth Board
The Growth Board had its first remote meeting on 2nd June, during which Cllr Emily Smith (Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council) was voted as the new Chair in line with the informal agreement to rotate the role. Cllr James Mills, the Leader of West Oxfordshire District Council is the new Vice-Chair.
The Growth Board scrutiny panel also held their meeting, as is usual, the week before.
The Growth Board will be circulating a newsletter in the next couple of weeks, to explain how the current pandemic has affected the board’s work, in particular the work on the Growth Deal. In the meantime, you can watch the recording of the growth board meeting here.
Climate committee meeting
The Vale had its first remote Climate Emergency Advisory meeting, which took place on 1st June. You can watch back the live recording here.
Although live public participation is not yet set up, members of the public can submit statements. Abingdon XR submitted their statement urging the District Council to do what was within its power to improve safety and provision for cyclists and asking the Vale to put pressure on the Oxfordshire County Council to begin urgently using their government funding to create local, safe cycle spaces.
To view the agenda for the meeting, and read the report on the work programme progress for the climate agenda, in light of the COVID-19 situation, read here.
Air pollution reduced by more than half in parts of southern Oxfordshire as walking and cycling increases
World Environment Day was on 5th June, and South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have announced that following lockdown there has been a marked reduction in air pollution in our districts – down by nearly 60 per cent in one location.
The lack of traffic and the increase in walking and cycling has helped improve the local air quality across southern Oxfordshire. There has been a marked reduction in Nitrogen Dioxides (NO2) in our air. NO2 is created by the burning of fuel from our cars and can be the cause of breathing difficulties, especially for those with existing respiratory conditions such as asthma. It can also contribute toward a number of other negative impacts on our health.
Councils remind residents to recycle responsibly
Thousands of residents in southern Oxfordshire have found their recycling bins unemptied each week because they have put the wrong things in them. Putting non-recyclable items in recycling can contaminate a whole truckload, which is then rejected at the recycling facility. This turns neighbours’ recycling into rubbish and ultimately wastes energy and raw materials by removing these items from the recycling process.
Bin crews in South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse districts have stepped up monitoring of recycling bins in recent months as the lockdown has meant an increase in household waste, which has meant an increased risk of people putting the wrong items in recycling bins. To remind residents about what can (and can’t) be recycled, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have devised a new recycling quiz available here:https://survey.southandvale.gov.uk/s/TheGreenRecyclingBinQuiz/
During one week of recycling collections in the past month there were 2,211 reports of wrong items found in recycling bins in the Vale of White Horse. Bins found with incorrect items for recycling were left unemptied.The vast majority were rejected because residents had put black or coloured bin bags into recycling bins. Crews cannot see what is in them and so won’t empty the bin. The next biggest category of rejections was because food was found in the green bin. Food contaminates recycling making it unrecyclable. Food can be collected in food bins and taken to a separate facility where it is transformed into electricity and fertiliser.
Textiles, like old T-shirts and odd socks are another reason for crews to leave recycling bins unemptied. Although both councils collect textiles for recycling at a different facility, they must be left in a tied carrier bag next to the green bin. Other non-recyclable items which are regularly found by bin crews in recycling bins are polystyrene, plastic toys, garden waste, electrical items, wood and nappies. These items cannot be sorted at the recycling centres and shouldn’t be put in the recycling as they can contaminate a whole truckload of recycling.
Recycling should be in the green bin loose or in clear bags so the crews can easily identify that the contents are recyclable. If they see non-recyclables, crews will leave the bins unemptied, record the reasons and leave a tag on the bin explaining to residents.For more information about what can and cannot be recycled please see our website: http://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/services-and-advice/recycling-rubbish-and-waste/recycling/what-can-i-recycle