Closing Out On 2020 - Mayo County Council’s Response To The Covid Pandemic
Christmas is almost upon us and the doors and shop windows of many businesses that were closed during the Level 5 restrictions are back open. Our towns are busy again. People are spending money and supporting local businesses and jobs.
Despite the Christmas trade, 2020 has been a very difficult year for many businesses in our county. Mayo County Council has provided a range of supports to businesses to help keep them afloat through restrictions and reduced trade. We have provided €20,185,785.00 in liquidity support through Restart grants and the local authority has given a Commercial Rates waiver to eligible businesses, including the vast majority of SMEs, for the 9 months since the pandemic took hold, supported by a share of a €900 million special funding allocation from the Government.
Our Local Enterprise Office has approved €930,000 in grant funding through the Trading Online Voucher scheme, helping businesses migrate and adapt to selling online. The Business Continuity Voucher scheme provided €420,000 in consultancy support to assist businesses in contingency planning during the height of the crisis. Training support to help businesses deal with such a challenging trading environment was pivoted entirely online with the LEO running 129 courses with 1,610 participants throughout the year. The capital grant funding support stream also continued to help sustain employment in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sectors by approving up to €800,000 in support.
Financial assistance is one side of our business support. Enabling trade in a safe and responsible environment is the other. We’ve worked with the business community to re-imagine and design our towns so that citizens feel comfortable and safe whilst shopping and going about their business. We have three areas of focus:
- providing safer public spaces for business and communities
- helping businesses to trade, by facilitating click-and-collect areas and ‘pick-up and delivery’ services, permitting increased opening hours and waiving licence fees for on-street furniture
- activation measures to help keep people safe, such as collaboration with the arts sector to enliven public areas
The already strong relationship with our businesses has been deepened on the back of strong cooperation from them to ensure appropriate communications and public signage on adherence to public health guidelines.
The New Year will, of course, bring many of the same challenges for businesses that they have faced throughout 2020. The first quarter of any year is often challenging for businesses. We will continue to respond to requests from the hospitality and retail sector for ways to accommodate increased consumer demand. Local tourism will also be important during the first part of 2021. The council is working with the sector to identify and utilise opportunities for collaboration, including promotion of destinations to attract domestic tourism
Enabling people to enjoy the arts in a safe way is also important. To this end we will continue to work with the creative community to see how the arts can be enjoyed by all in our community.
Whilst the economy will continue to need support, the same is true for our citizens and communities. At the end of March, we established a Community Call Forum with stakeholders from across the public, community and voluntary sectors and the charity ALONE.
Since then we have provided a helpline to co-ordinate a response to those in need of social or practical supports because of their circumstances during the pandemic. This has included the delivery of food, groceries and medicines and other services to those who have needed them. We have also provided support for those experiencing isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, the helpline has received 900 calls and in partnership with Mayo Community Call Forum we’ve provided countywide services including: Collection & Delivery, Information and Advice, Befriending, Meals on Wheels, Health, Volunteering, Transport and Safety. Our helpline remains open to those who need help, those who know someone who needs help, or those who want to volunteer and provide help.
The Community Call Helpline can be contacted at: 0949064660. Text: 0873611457 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This new service is being provided alongside our regular day-to-day services that are offering people ways to relax, learn or be creative amidst the current challenges.
During the period of the pandemic the Council’s staff had to adapt to new ways of working whilst continuing to provide the wide range of services to our citizens without interruption. This was achieved through a combination of remote working and rota systems ensuring the health and safety of our Staff and Customers was always to the fore
We have strived to keep the public up to date at all times in relation to service delivery using our online platform www.mayo.ie and across all of our social media channels. Our ongoing engagement with the Mayo Diaspora was enhanced throughout the year, a time when Mayo people unable to travel home valued the opportunity to stay connected. The award winning initiative, Virtual Mayo Day was a key example of innovation in connecting with the Global Diaspora.
Our library service is one example where Mayo County Council had to adapt and be innovative. This year, due to restrictions such as the closure of our libraries for parts of the year, we introduced rapid changes to service delivery. We have promoted our eLibrary services like eBooks, audiobooks, online newspapers, magazines and e-learning courses, which all library members can access. We’ve rolled out a book delivery service with the help of Mayo Local Link; our regular online storytime sessions continue to be very popular, as do our detailed posts on Mayo local history; and we also started a ‘Call and Collect’ service. Castlebar Library Book Club started meeting in April via Zoom and has continued to meet every month since. We worked to deliver books to direct provision, family support workers, speech and language therapists, Mayo Mental Health services, the ISPCC and to clients of the Irish Wheelchair Association during both lockdowns. We also rolled out the provision of online events for Healthy Ireland at Your Library and delivered online storytime sessions on request to local national schools. Mayo County Council, through its library service, was also the first local authority in the country to start an online version of the Time to Read initiative, where volunteers from all sections of the council read with second class children once a week, encouraging their love of books and reading. Library branches reopened to the public on December 1 and continue to provide a call and collect service and home delivery service alongside being open for browsing and borrowing. And finally, during the first lockdown, Mayo Library in conjunction with The Western People ran the ‘Through the Ages’ initiative – inviting children in and from Mayo to interview their grandparents about what life was like for them growing up. The winning entries were published in an impressive souvenir supplement.
Central to the Council’s work this year have been our elected members. They have worked hard with staff and different sectors such as the business community to produce solutions and supports for the times we’re in. They took difficult budgetary decisions after careful scrutiny of the options. Like all staff in Mayo County Council, they too have had to adapt their work practices to keep the show on the road.
2021 will undoubtedly bring many challenges to the communities and businesses of Mayo. But it will also bring new opportunities for the Council to work with businesses, organisations and communities to find new ways to protect our citizens and local economy, for the times we’re in, and beyond.