We live in a most beautiful part of the world – you have heard me say that many times! Little wonder people want to visit Mendip. We have so much to shout about. The rich, unique, natural landscapes of the Mendip Hills and all they have to offer, is just one example. A delight for walkers, cavers and climbers. Our main towns too of course, offer diverse attractions.
While staycations will have brought extra footfall to the southwest region, there is no hiding from the fact that tourism has been one of the hardest hit sectors during the COVID pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
If we are serious about recovery in our area, if we want to build back better, we must deliver financial support packages and offer practical help to our crucial visitor economy.
When it comes to how local governments work for their residents in Somerset in the coming years, there are changes afoot. The four district councils and the county council will be abolished, and a new unitary authority will be set up to cover the whole of the county in April 2023.
There’s a lot to do, but Mendip staff and councillors, alongside our colleagues across Somerset, will be working hard to ensure services are delivered seamlessly to our residents and communities, during the transition.
The Covid pandemic brought residents and local organisations closer. People reached out, and pulled together. Something seemed to switch. No longer was there a focus on ‘individuals’. It was all about ‘community’. I witnessed that first-hand.
Parish Councils, and those who serve on them, certainly played their part during his recent national crisis. They were front and centre – protecting their people and the places where they lived. They were perfectly placed to do so, being at the heart of our communities.
From time to time I’m asked, ‘what’s the purpose of Mendip District Council?’ In response I say, ‘to protect the vulnerable, and keep our communities safe.’ Because that’s it, in a nutshell.
Now if I’m honest, I don’t get asked about our purpose or our services quite as much as I used to. The Covid crisis has brought people closer to their Council. Many businesses and community groups have contacted us directly during the past 18 months to access business grants, or to seek help with household finances, emergency food parcels and medical supplies. Residents have visited our Council campus in Shepton Mallet in person, to receive life-saving vaccinations – and still do so today.
With dangerous wildfires raging in Greece and the US, and after the devastating floods in Germany and Belgium last month, the impacts of climate change have never been more apparent.
Climate change is a threat to our planet – and animal and human life – and it’s happening now. We also need to look close to home, and do everything we can to future-proof against flooding.
At the time of writing this column, the Met Office has issued its first ever extreme heat warning as temperatures rise across the country, including the South West. I know some people love the heat, but for others, especially the older generation, it’s very uncomfortable. It makes everyday tasks very challenging indeed. Do look after your elderly neighbours as best you can.
The heatwave certainly didn’t help me this Saturday – I climbed the Westbury-sub-Mendip tower as part of a local fundraising push for the church. It was my first venture up the tower, and pretty challenging in the weekend’s weather!
Speaking of local fundraising, I wanted to flag that the deadline for the ecological and community funding grants has been extended to 30th September. If you are part of a voluntary, community or not-for-profit organisation, or maybe involved with a city, town and parish council, please make sure you apply.
What does your District Council do for you? The answer is ‘just about everything that keeps communities safe, protects the vulnerable, and helps economic recovery.’
The Covid pandemic has highlighted just how needed District Council services are. You, your family or your friends may have come into close contact with us in recent months. More than ever before.
Perhaps you’re one of the local businesses who have faced financial difficulty during the national lockdowns, and looked to us for help. We’ve issued £55 million in grants so far, and counting.
Or maybe you visited our council offices in Shepton Mallet which operates as a life-saving vaccination hub.
I’ve always admired the role farmers play in caring for the countryside and environment. As a wildlife enthusiast, I truly value their stewardship of the land, the way they introduce practices that encourage nature, and take on our climate change concerns.
They’ve had to adapt and diversify over the years, and this has been critical for our communities. Their flexibility post-Brexit will be tested once again of course, as Direct Payments are phased out and new funding streams introduced.
The government’s Farming Investment Fund is one of the ways through which profitability and environmental good can be achieved. Farmers and agricultural or forestry contractors involved in the production or processing of agricultural, horticultural or forestry products, who are based in England, can apply for these grants.