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.
I’ve always found that when there are extremes on emerging issues, the centre-ground tends to shift a little. Just a few years ago, climate change and the environment may have been seen as whimsical, even fanatical, to some. Now they are considered sensible, serious talking points. That’s because we all recognise and accept that our planet is at risk. We have witnessed it through the impacts on people, on our wildlife, and in our dispersed weather patterns.
At Mendip District Council we are addressing this issue. Back in 2019, Mendip was one of 300 councils nationwide to declare a climate emergency. It was a public acknowledgment that the Council needed to act on the causes and impacts of climate change. It was a firm commitment from us, and was written into our corporate priorities.
However difficult the past 12 months or so have been, hopefully we can take some positive learnings forward.
As much as we all missed being together during the various different lockdowns, I know that for many, being able to attend meetings virtually – once we all go to used to the technology, no mean feat – has meant less time driving in our cars and more time at home with our families.
At Mendip we have now fully embraced hybrid meetings, meaning official council meetings are now happening both in person and remotely too, allowing for members of the press and public to be able to watch and listen from afar.
One of the ongoing challenges we face at Mendip is making sure we support and represent the differing needs of our communities across the district. From the 40 percent of people who live in rural areas, to those who live in the five settlements: Shepton, Street, Frome, Wells and Glastonbury.
Working together is key. When we listen and work together, we can achieve great things.