We caught up (via email) with Hungerford’s Mayor, Helen Simpson, to ask her about the how the town, and the Town Council, has reacted to Covid-19.
Q: It’s now three months since the lockdown measures started. How would you describe the response of the town of Hungerford in general to CV-19?
A: Truly outstanding. Hungerford is a very close community and the town united quickly to ensure no one was left behind without help, support, guidance and reassurance. Coming to terms with a strange new daily routine has been challenging for many of us; hopefully the community has felt supported throughout the lockdown.
Q: What do you think HTC’s main contribution to the response was?
A: Geordie Taylor, and the army of volunteers who came forward to help our community, were organised in a very short space of time. This meant that, with Geordie’s leadership, we were quickly ready to respond to our community’s needs. HTC’s role within this group was to offer administrative governance guidance, signposting residents and applying for government and grant funding where available.
HTC also established a priority entry at Tesco’s supermarket for the volunteers so that they didn’t need to queue. This ensured a faster route for supplies enabling volunteers to service more of Hungerford’s isolating residents. A similar system was arranged for prescription collections at Boots pharmacy. The Self Isolation team organised one volunteer to collect the daily prescriptions in one go.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Hungerford’s Tesco’s supermarket, Boots pharmacy, the Self Isolation team, community volunteers, the local press, HTC staff and HTC councillors for their support and commitment to our community. Hungerford really is a very special place to live and work.
Q: What challenges do you feel the town still faces from this threat?
A: HTC has been working alongside West Berkshire Council to help businesses emerge safely from lockdown. We are also providing information to residents to help boost community confidence and to reassure everyone that we will do as much as we can to support the whole town as we all learn to go about daily life. Does anyone else feel like they’ve learnt a whole new vocabulary? Pandemic, furlough, lockdown…it certainly feels extremely alien.
Geordie is beginning to phase down the volunteer team – but please be reassured that no member of our community requiring support will be left stranded. As virus numbers continue to come down, HTC will be closely observing and passing on any new government guidance as it becomes available. I have also written to the leader of West Berkshire Council to request what measures and processes they will take to manage and address the situation if there are any changes and virus numbers start to increase.
Q: The risk of future emergencies, virus-related or otherwise, can’t be ruled out. What steps is HTC taking to ensure that it’s as prepared as it can be to help the town meet these?
A: Every cloud has a silver lining: the Town Clerk now has a number of new volunteer contacts, enabling HTC to make huge progress with the town’s emergency plan. The virus has given a real-life opportunity to test the measures in place to enable us to react confidently, effectively and quickly in the future should we need to.
Q: It’s been agreed that you will stay on as Mayor, and Keith Knight as deputy, for a further year. This will enable you to implement any plans that you might have announced at the cancelled Town Meeting in March. Can you provide a brief summary of what these are?
A: HTC has been working towards presenting the town with a four-year action plan with the aim of presenting this plan at the Town Meeting. Sadly, lockdown prevented this, but we are hopeful this can be shared with the community as soon as possible. It’s important for us to propose this plan with a presentation on how we are intending to achieve it.
Q: Finally, is there any particular message you’d like to share with the people in Hungerford at the moment?
A: HTC wanted to offer the community some continuity throughout the pandemic, so I am delighted to be serving the town for another term as Town Mayor. Also, I hope the community will wholeheartedly support our local businesses and HTC wishes to take this opportunity to wish them all every success.
For other interviews with local people (including one with Helen when she took office, with her predecessor Keith Knight, with the Town Clerk Claire Barnes and with Hungerford’s three ward members), please click here.