Introduction by the Mayor of Broxtowe, Cllr Janet Patrick

This has been the most unusual of years to serve as the Mayor of Broxtowe, it’s probably symbolic that I was elected as Mayor at a virtual meeting held on 13th May 2020. We’ve now become accustomed to the virtual world and this was a meeting that was a sign of things to come. I am deeply saddened that, at the time of writing 247 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 in Broxtowe, including a member of the Council. My thoughts are with their family and friends.

Everyone has been touched by the pandemic is some way, but this is also a positive story of communities coming together to help each other and those less fortunate, of appreciating the key workers that we rely on to deliver essential services and our wonderful NHS.

I am also grateful to all those who have supported the Mayoral Charity, it is astonishing that we have been able to raise over £2,500 when all the normal fundraising activities had to be cancelled. The money will go towards supporting Citizens Advice Broxtowe to provide essential free information and advice services as the community seeks to rebuild itself and its economy from the pandemic.

Cllr Janet Patrick, May 2021

How the pandemic impacted on Broxtowe

Citizens Advice Broxtowe conducted a survey of clients that have contacted the charity during 2020 and how the pandemic has impacted them. The survey discovered that 70% of all enquiries related to problems that resulted from the COVID-19 virus, the restrictions imposed to reduce infections or economic impact. Of these more than 33% said there had been a physical health impact, 39% had experienced a drop in income but of most concern 64% of Citizens Advice clients impacted by the pandemic felt their mental health had suffered during the pandemic. Citizens Advice Broxtowe were pleased to report that after seeking advice from the charity the same study found that clients reported an average improvement of 50% when asked about feeling more supported and less isolated.

Data from the charities enquiries provides insight into the problems Broxtowe residents have faced during 2020. By far the greatest number of enquiries related to help claiming welfare benefits (35% of all enquiries) as people found their incomes had reduced or they lost their jobs altogether. The other most common enquiry types related to debts, housing and employment problems.

Citizens Advice Broxtowe’s Chief executive, Sally Bestwick states:

“The age profile of our clients changed during 2020 with the majority of our clients being of working age. Many people who have never turned to the state or charities before needed a hand up for the first time. Our overriding reflection is that of the voluntary sector and local councils worked together to support local people during the pandemic. We were grateful for the emergency grants, including those from Broxtowe Borough Council that helped us adapt our services enabling our dedicated staff and volunteers to continue to help people during these difficult times.”

Communities coming together and adapting lives

Despite the huge challenges of adjusting our lives and businesses to the pandemic and the inevitable restrictions, communities came together to support those in need. Our local food charities stepped-up to the challenge, making emergency supplies available to those who had lost their incomes due the greatest economic downturn since World War Two and community groups delivered food to people self-isolating due to poor health or being infected by the pandemic.

Mutual Aid groups set up across Broxtowe and both the Borough and County Councils distributed grants to help local charities provide additional support to people needing help and assistance. Our local food-banks including Hope also stepped up to the mark working along side our advice services. The County Council set up an online Community Hub to help coordinate these efforts. Likewise grants were made available to support local businesses.

There were of course some worrying consequences of the pandemic as national organisations supporting mental health and people experiencing domestic abuse reported significant increases in requests for help. Locally Citizens Advice Broxtowe are lucky to have close partnerships with Nottinghamshire Mind and Broxtowe Women’s Project where we can refer clients in need of their services. Likewise the strain on families was not confined to adults. Young people were especially vulnerable, months of not being able to mix with their peers, school closures and the under 25’s were more at risk of redundancy during the pandemic. We are lucky in Broxtowe to have Broxtowe Youth Homelessness who provide young people with a range of support services.

A taste of life in Broxtowe during COVID-19

We asked people to send us their pictures that told a story of life in Broxtowe during the pandemic. There were a number of themes expressed in images. Showing appreciation to Key workers, not only were NHS workers on the front line but those who empty our bins, working through the lockdowns, care workers and essential shop workers were praised for their dedication.

Some of the pictures told of adjusting our lives around the restrictions, taking up new hobbies such as gardening, home (self) haircuts and working from home. COVID-19 even changed the office Christmas party to a virtual event.

We had to change the way we deliver our services

At the outbreak of the pandemic we had to shift our working methods so that people could still access advice even though our teams had to work from home. Supported with grants from Broxtowe Borough Council, Nottinghamshire County Council and the National Emergencies Trust we were able to develop IT systems that allowed our staff and volunteers to work more flexibly from any location (an investment that will benefit our service into the future). When it was safe and permitted we opened our doors for essential appointments in recognition that our most vulnerable clients wanted help in person. We were able to convert our offices to COVID-19 secure places to provide advice to the most vulnerable. The Government recognised Citizens Advice staff as key workers.

The Mayor’s Charity events

Citizens Advice Broxtowe were honoured to be chosen as the Mayor of Broxtowe’s charity. Little were we to know that when the charity coordination team was set up and met for the first time in April 2020 that we would still be in a pandemic over 12 months later. We did know however that, with the usual set piece events cancelled, our inventive staff and volunteers, supported by the Mayor’s Civic Team, would turn the difficulties into challenges. Timed around the changing restrictions volunteers and staff undertook selling novelty homemade face masks, online Bake-off competition, sponsored walks and cycle rides and even selling Christmas stocking. Special thanks go to Jackie, Liz, Sam and Michele for their outstanding efforts.

Vaccines and light at the end of the tunnel

After Christmas there came a little hope that an end to the pandemic was insight with the news that vaccines were beginning to be approved. With the rapid rollout of the vaccines in the UK the community spirit of Broxtowe people was to shine through with many local people volunteering to become vaccine volunteers, including our own Liz Wilding.

With the roadmap to easing the lockdown making progress and our own services reopening to callers in person we look back with sadness for those who have lost their fight against COVID-19 but we also reflect on the magnificent effort that came from the community in Broxtowe, our wonderful charities that were there for us when we needed them and the recognition of the essential services that we sometimes take for granted in ‘normal’ times.

At Citizens Advice Broxtowe we are working on ensuring that our service meets the needs of the community coming out of the pandemic and developing a Community COVID Recovery Plan for Broxtowe. In doing so we know that only by working together with all our partners can we meet the challenge.

And finally thank you

Thanks you to Cllr Patrick for supporting us during her mayoral year like no other, to all the help and support with the charity events and to all our staff, volunteers and stakeholders. We feel that together we can build back Broxtowe stronger.

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