Derbyshire County Council Leader Councillor Barry Lewis looks forward to 2021 with optimism after a challenging year for all

I normally start my Christmas message by saying what a busy year it’s been and highlighting some of the reasons why.

But I think we’d all agree this year has been far from normal, and to say we’ve been busy doesn’t really cover it.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on our lives – more so than anyone could have envisaged when the first case in Derbyshire was reported back in February.

It’s obviously affected how we run the council and its services and we adapted quickly and well to the new circumstances and ever-changing situation, working closely with partners across the county.

We’ve pulled out all the stops to help and support our residents, making £1 million emergency funding immediately available to support households and businesses, and setting up our Community Response Unit to reach the most vulnerable and channel all the help offered by amazing volunteers.

Our £15 million Covid-19 Recovery Scheme has been running since late autumn, and will help to support businesses and save jobs, and we’re also running the Government’s covid winter grants scheme, making sure that families needing extra help over the next few months have access to vouchers to ensure no child in Derbyshire goes hungry.

I think we all applauded when we heard a vaccine was ready, and its roll out now is the key to us all getting some normality back. I understand some people are anxious but it’s the only way we can retrieve our lives, keep our loved ones safe and not put others at risk.

The vaccine rollout will take time, and our residents can rest assured that we will continue with our vital work to support households and businesses where we can for as long as is needed.

We are proud to say that we are ahead of the curve with community testing, being one of the first local authorities to be approved to carry this out. Along with the vaccine rollout and local tracing it’s another critical step to getting our local economy working again and our lives back, and I’m proud we’re taking the lead. This will be done in stages across the county and in time could also help us move down to the lower tiers of restriction, which we’re so desperate to do.

We know our hospitality sector and the tourism industry as a whole is being hit particularly hard, and we’ve called on the Government to provide more financial support and help to pull them through.  

While the pandemic has dominated, we certainly haven’t taken our eye off the ball with other important work, and there have been some fantastic achievements over the past 12 months.

We’ve seen the opening of the new £10 million Ada Belfield Care Centre in Belper, which is now home to residents who waited patiently to move in while it was used to care for people recovering from covid-19. And on the same site we opened the wonderful new Belper Library, demonstrating our commitment to our library service now and in the future.

Our drive to ensure the best care for older people will also clearly be demonstrated when building work starts on the £13 million replacement for Hazelwood residential care home on the former Bennerley School site in Cotmanhay in the new year.

We’ve approved more than £11million for work on schools this year including improvements and maintenance which will see new windows, doors, heating systems and roofing. We’re funding the expansion of Glossopdale School and spending £1.2million on expanding John Port Spencer Academy in Etwall. We’ve also recently celebrated the opening of the new £5.3 million Highfields Spencer Academy in Littleover.

Our library service has worked wonders during the pandemic to reopen all 45 libraries and reintroduce the mobile library service safely and within the restrictions, and during lockdown staff continued to develop their extensive digital offer including access to online activities, events and eResources. Other teams have embraced digital working, with services such as Live Life Better Derbyshire now being delivered online.

And backing positive initiatives like the ShopAppy scheme, which has seen 250 local businesses register in recent weeks, and ensuring businesses know where to go for support, will also help us to weather the storm and help the county bounce back.

In the autumn we announced we’ll be spending more than £40million on improving roads and pavements across the county in the next 18 months, as well as a further £12 million on routine maintenance. We successfully bid for an extra £5 million for works on the A6 and we’re making good progress on plans for the Ashbourne by-pass, with an online consultation now completed for people to have their say on three potential routes.

One of the highlights of the year for me, which unfortunately couldn’t be marked in the way it was planned, was the opening of the Buxton Crescent, which has certainly been worth waiting for. I have been lucky enough to visit and have a guided tour and the work that has gone into it is stunning. A real jewel in Derbyshire’s crown.

We haven’t let coronavirus stop us from marking important milestones this year either, with online events marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and a socially-distanced Remembrance Day event at County Hall.

As the vaccine is rolled out and life begins to return to normal, we will carry on with our ambitious plans for the county, our residents, our environment and our economy.

Devolution will be high on the agenda, and we have outlined our approach in our Vision Derbyshire plan, liaising closely with our district and borough council partners on a new way of working together.

We’re also reinvigorating plans for the Festival of Derbyshire, put off in 2020, and now planned for 2021.

And our work on climate change will continue at pace as we strive to meet the targets we have set ourselves as an authority and for the county as a whole.

I’d like to thank all our residents for the resilience and amazing Derbyshire Spirit you have shown this year and I’m confident we can look to the future with optimism.

It’s not over, and we still need to ensure we are following the guidelines and restrictions and listening to the latest safety messages. I know this will be especially tough for many due to the recent changes over Christmas. We know there will be difficult times ahead too, but together we can do this and we will get our county back on track.

Have a Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2021.

Do the right thing for Derbyshire

As you’ll be aware we’re now under a new lockdown and are being asked to follow new restrictions until December when it will be reviewed.

We’re backing this Government decision as it’s the right thing to do to try to stop the spread of coronavirus, keep us all safe, and hopefully in time, return us to some sort of normality.

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen the number of cases rising in Derbyshire and other parts of the country, and it’s clear the virus isn’t going away.

That’s why it’s so important we continue to take this seriously and stick to the restrictions.

I know this is going to be tough – maybe more so second time around. But it’s vitally important that we dig deep and follow the rules to the letter.

To people who think this doesn’t apply to them, it does. To people who think the virus won’t affect them, it will. Even if you don’t have symptoms, by breaking the lockdown you could be putting others at risk – family members or friends.

At the council we’ll be doing all we can to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities this winter and working hard to ensure our services are still there for those that need them.

We’ll be supporting efforts to ensure businesses survive and jobs are protected, and will be there for struggling families, the isolated and the lonely.

Our community response unit which supported thousands of people during the first lockdown is gearing back up and all the information about how to get help and offer help is on our website. The address is at the end of this video.

If you do go out, for shopping, exercise, or work if you can’t work from home, it’s also important you follow the advice we’re now all familiar with – wash hands, stay a safe distance apart and wear a face covering.

I’m really proud of the way Derbyshire communities are handling this and we need to continue showing our great Derbyshire spirit by doing all we can to stop the spread of this highly contagious virus and keep us all safe.

We can do this if we continue to support each other and work together.  Thank you.

Welcoming the opening of historic Buxton Crescent

The historic Buxton Crescent has opened its doors following a multi-million pound redevelopment involving Derbyshire County Council and High Peak Borough Council, and I’ve already been treated to a tour to see for myself what will be on offer.

There’s no doubt the restoration of the Grade I listed building to its former glory as a Georgian spa will give the local economy a much-needed boost, and it’s anticipated it will create 140 permanent jobs across 40 different positions and occupations, in addition to supply chain contracts, boosting local tourism and putting Buxton back on the map as a leading spa town.

I’m very pleased to say there will be additional benefits for Derbyshire residents in recognition of the councils’ investment in the regeneration. International spa hotel chain Ensana, which manages the hotel and spa, has agreed discounts for anyone who lives in Derbyshire. More details can be found here https://www.ensanahotels.com/buxton/en

Residents can claim their discount which will be issued at the hotel by showing photo ID and a current council tax bill.

The Crescent really is the jewel in Buxton’s crown and I’m proud of the county council’s involvement in this complex conservation and regeneration project spanning many years to restore this Georgian gem to its rightful status as a luxury hotel and spa.

It’s been a difficult year, not least for the tourism industry, but with demand for staycations sky-rocketing, Buxton Crescent is set to be a huge draw to the Peak District for people looking to get away – and we’re pleased Ensana has recognised the local investment by offering a discount to Derbyshire residents.

The hotel really is flying the flag for economic recovery in Derbyshire, providing employment directly and indirectly through contracts with local businesses and I wish Ensana every success in this new chapter in the history of the Crescent.

Coming back cleaner and greener

When we published our Derbyshire Climate and Carbon Reduction commitment a year ago we couldn’t have foreseen where we would be today.

As we pledged to do all we could to reduce our carbon footprint and work with the community to cut emissions across the county, we knew radical change was needed to the way in which we led our daily lives.

It’s not the way we’d have chosen to bring about change, but in many ways coronavirus has forced our hand — and amid all the challenges, difficulties and tragedies brought about by the pandemic, the natural world seems to be thriving.

I read somewhere that it was as if the world had pressed the reset button. And you’ve only got to look at images from around the world of cities previously choked with smog adorned with blue skies and clear views to see the effects.

Of the many lessons learned during this pandemic, the effect on our natural environment is one we must not lose sight of.

We’ve made those radical changes which a year ago we could have only imagined. And as we work towards getting our economy and life in our communities back on track, it’s important that we take back with us new ways that have helped our natural environment to mend.

For the county council, that means more home working using technology and conference calls for meetings, cutting down miles travelled for all our staff as well as opportunities to encourage cycling to work and promote greener travel using our new electric car fleet.

We’ve made a start by becoming founder members of the Countryside Climate Network – a group of rural councils joining to get rural issues on the national agenda when it comes to tackling climate change.

And for local businesses it means thinking about cleaner, greener growth as they work to get back on their feet.

It won’t be easy and we know there are many challenges ahead. But if any positives can come out of this awful chapter in world history, then surely this is one?

Think twice before heading to Derbyshire this weekend

With the bank holiday weekend upon us, we would normally be preparing to welcome visitors to our county with open arms.

Sadly, this year it’s quite the opposite. Despite some restrictions being relaxed, this year it’s not business as usual and things are still far from normal.

That’s why I’m joining with other Derbyshire leaders to ask visitors to respect local communities this coming bank holiday and postpone their trip until later in the year.

Many local people in our communities were left feeling vulnerable and at risk following large numbers visiting the Peak District and other parts of Derbyshire last weekend.

We know how tempting it is to want to get away from it all, to give ourselves a change of scenery, to do something ‘normal’ and help boost our mood. We get it. We all feel it. But we need to be sensible – and if everyone swarms to those honeypot locations such as Matlock Bath, Bakwell, Monsall Head and Ladybower, to name but a few, it will make effective social distancing nigh on impossible, putting everyone at risk.

If visitors are coming to Derbyshire to exercise, then they need to be aware that public toilets are still expected to be closed and – like the rest of the country – pubs, restaurants, cafes and also some car parks are also closed.

Derbyshire is a beautiful county and we understand people’s desire to visit, but a visit later in the year will help protect our local communities, and you, and give you the full Derbyshire experience. We look forward to welcoming you then.

Derbyshire Spirit

Derbyshire County Council Leader Councillor Barry Lewis talks about the Derbyshire Spirit campaign which celebrates the show of collective strength, resilience and kindness shown by communities across the county in the face of coronavirus.

I’ve always had a strong idea of what community spirit means to me and I see it all the time when I’m out and about and meeting with dozens of people every week in my role as Council Leader.

However, even I have been overwhelmed and truly humbled to see the strong, resilient and determined community spirit I have witnessed in recent weeks across our whole county.

Acts of kindness from stranger to stranger, neighbour to neighbour and group to group. People falling over themselves to help each other out and go the extra mile to make sure everyone is kept as safe and protected as possible and has what they need.

It’s the Derbyshire Spirit – it’s incredible – and we want to celebrate it.

That’s why we launched the Derbyshire Spirit campaign, which is a celebration of this collective show of strength. We’ve already seen many of your tales of Derbyshire Spirit in action and we want to see more.

You could be doing your bit by volunteering, keeping people in your community connected or just simply following the social distancing guidance to keep you and your family safe. You might also be showing your support for the key workers keeping us all going.

It’s difficult to know when life will return to what we considered normal before the coronavirus began to affect every aspect of our lives.

We’ve all had to make many changes to the way we live our lives, and many of us have had to deal with personal challenges and worries about the health and well-being of family and friends, with some facing illness and very sadly in some cases, the loss of loved ones.

The support we’ve all shown for each other in our communities, with all district and borough councils, dozens of agencies, charities and voluntary groups, communities and individual volunteers working together as one has been outstanding.

It’s vital this effort continues. However the situation changes over the next few weeks and months I’m sure people will still need help and support.

That’s why we must continue to work closely together, be flexible, be patient and look out for each other and our neighbours.

So let us know what you, your family, friends and communities are doing to help in these unprecedented times and see how others are showing the Derbyshire Spirit by visiting www.derbyshire.gov.uk/derbyshirespirit . You can send your stories, pictures and videos to derbyshirespirit@derbyshire.gov.uk and use #DerbyshireSpirit on social media.

The Derbyshire Spirit has brought us this far and will continue to stand us in good stead for the future, so when `normal’ returns, whatever it looks like, we’ll be ready for it.

VE Day 75

I’m sure many of you, like me, were looking forward to joining with others to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day this year.

Taking advantage of the bank holiday, you might have been planning to attend an event or watch a parade, gather with others for the two minute silence or join with family and friends for a celebration, picnic or party.

Of course, these public events and gatherings are sadly cancelled or on hold at least, due to the coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean we can’t mark this historic, important and poignant occasion safely from our own homes, doorsteps, gardens and sofas.

It’s true to say we’re facing some of the most challenging times since the Second World War, which makes it feel even more important that we come together to remember and commemorate VE Day, and reflect on the sacrifices of millions of people who died or were affected.

On 8 May 1945 people joined together and rejoiced that the war was over, and their lives would soon get back to something resembling normal.

That’s something I know we are all looking forward to now – winning the war against this virus and getting back a semblance of normality – and we will – but it will take time.

So, although we can’t mark VE Day 75 with parades and public events, I know the Derbyshire Spirit will be evident as we all have our own celebrations at home – join the two-minute silence, take part in the national toast and even have a sing-a-long from our doorsteps.

There’s lots of information about VE Day 75 on our website at www.derbyshire.gov.uk/VE75 so why not take a look.

Stay safe, thank you.

Community response unit – progress so far

I’m very pleased to report that our community response unit is operating well and is already starting to make a difference in our communities.

The offers of help that have come in have been overwhelming and clearly demonstrate that an incredibly strong community spirit – we call it the Derbyshire Spirit – is alive and well in our county.

Since the response unit went live more than 1,500 people have requested help, and on some days we’ve taken up to 250 calls.

The main requests we’re getting are for help with food deliveries, but people are also asking about fetching prescriptions and financial help too.

We’ve also heard from people who are self-isolating and struggling with loneliness, and we’re working hard to put them in touch with others who can offer a friendly voice at the end of the phone when they need it.

That’s one of the really tough aspects of this virus – it takes away that support network and social contact that many of us turn to in times of crisis. Family, friends and neighbours usually ready to help out are self-isolating to keep themselves and others safe and protected.

That’s why it’s so essential that our community response unit is there for those that really need it and have nowhere else to turn and no one else to fall back on.

We’re getting help to where it’s needed most, when it’s needed most, working hand-in-hand with dozens of organisations and hundreds of  individuals.

And we’re getting daily updates from the Government of people who have registered with the Department for Work and Pensions because they are vulnerable and self-isolating. We’re able to help them directly as our food distribution centre is now up and running, and we’re aiming to send out food parcels to support these residents.

If you’ve offered to help with the community response unit and you haven’t heard back from us yet, don’t worry. We’re working through the offers as quickly as we can and we’ll be in touch shortly.

To succeed, this massive community effort needs us all to pull together, and it’s great to see this happening in the face of this terrible virus.

To find out more about volunteering, or getting help, visit our dedicated webpages at www.derbyshire.gov.uk/communityresponse

People can also ring the dedicated phone line – 01629 535091 – which is open Monday to Friday 9am-5pm and Saturdays 9am-1pm.

Open letter to Derbyshire – 24 March 2020

I wanted to put pen to paper to say how proud I am to be the Leader of Derbyshire County Council, proud of our staff and proud of our residents who always pull together at times of crisis to ensure we will come out of the other side of this an even stronger community.

This is not the first time in the last 12 months I’ve expressed my pride when Derbyshire County Council staff and Derbyshire folk have responded to a crisis – we’ve seen more than our fair share; Toddbrook Dam at Whaley Bridge, the floods in November that impacted on many communities and businesses, and the recent storms in February that saw even more impacts on residents. 

The Covid-19, global pandemic has arrived in our communities triggering the largest peacetime response ever mobilised – not just here in Derbyshire, or nationally – but globally.  Watching the global community react, sweep into action, come together and fight this scourge has been humbling. 

All of our colleagues, and the public sector as a whole, are working incredibly hard to ensure we respond to this emergency in the best way possible.

At this point I must say a huge thanks to all out there on the frontline: doctors, nurses, social workers, care workers, teachers, classroom support workers, cleaners and indeed everyone that plays a vital role in keeping residents well and ensuring we are as safe as we can be.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement this week of much stricter public measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus. There really is no other choice. People really need to take heed of this and follow the rules as established by Government, for the sake of our NHS, our country and our communities.  There has never been a more important time for the residents of this great county to do the right thing and show Derbyshire spirit.

And unless we all follow the advice of Public Health and doctors working on the frontline – to self-isolate, socially distance ourselves and practice good hygiene – then we could see some dark days ahead. It is imperative we take COVID-19 seriously to protect Derbyshire residents.

This weekend we took the difficult decision to close our country parks due to the high numbers of visitors making it impossible for people to stay a safe distance apart. Uniquely, Derbyshire and the Peak District are visited by day trippers from major conurbations and cities that surround us. Normally we’d welcome them with open arms. But in the current crisis we simply cannot.

We have also welcomed the decision from a public health point of view to close all schools, but we know how challenging this is for many parents and we’d like to thank them too, and recognise the difficulties this will pose for many. We’re currently working closely with schools to do what we can around this situation, supporting their work to ensure provision is available for the children of key workers.

As cases climb higher in the UK the experience from elsewhere tells us there will be increasing challenges and we must be ready for them, so I want to reassure you that Derbyshire is ready to face this, working with partners across the public, private and voluntary sector including charities large and small.

I also wanted to touch upon some of the things we have done as a council as this virus continues to spread and disrupt normal life in Derbyshire.

A key part of what we are trying to do is to reassure people that during these extraordinary times, when every sinew of community effort needs to be stretched to ensure our communities, residents and vulnerable people get the support they need, that we are working together as a community.  We will pull out all the stops, financial or otherwise, to ensure we can support communities, charities and groups in any way we can that in turn support our residents.

To that end we have set aside an initial sum of £1m to provide support to Derbyshire businesses and residents. 

Of that £100,000 has gone to support all of Derbyshire’s foodbanks via Foundation Derbyshire, which has good links with many voluntary sector organisations throughout Derbyshire. 

There will also be support for businesses as they struggle to pay bills and wages as their revenues slow down, and we will support individuals and families who cannot pay household bills or meet other financial obligations for reasons related to the pandemic.

We have established the “Covid-19 Community Response Unit” that will bring agencies and volunteers across the county together and support residents and businesses as they tackle the infection and its effects.

The Unit will work with other Derbyshire councils and agencies including the voluntary sector to enhance support for people across the county who are experiencing hardship related to the virus.  Effectively it will be a hub for coordinating efforts across Derbyshire and ensuring people are well and safe. We have started the call for volunteers for the Community Response Unit.

One final thing we are doing is working closely cross party, perhaps in an unprecedented way in Derbyshire, and discussions with the Leader of the Labour Group Cllr Paul Smith have been excellent and this should absolutely be the way political parties work when facing a crisis of this nature – together but with real challenge and real support to direct the efforts of the county council.  We will absolutely continue to work this way with the opposition during these challenging times.  This isn’t about Party politics – this is about supporting residents and business in Derbyshire as part of a national and global effort to beat Covid-19 and its effects.

We will get through this but we’ll need to work together, look out for each other and make sure we all have each other’s backs.  I hope it won’t be too long until our efforts are turned to getting Derbyshire back on its feet and restoring business as usual.

Councillor Barry Lewis

Leader Derbyshire County Council

COVID-19 Community Response Unit

There’s never been a more important time for us to all work together as we face this unprecedented and difficult time.

We’ve now launched our COVID-19 Community Response Unit which is already working to bring agencies across the county together to support residents and businesses as they tackle this virus and its effects.

We’ve also set aside an initial £1m coronavirus fund to help support vulnerable residents and affected businesses, and have welcomed the Government creating a £500m hardship fund, which local authorities will be able to tap in to.

My main messages at this time are that we must pull together, help our neighbours, friends and vulnerable people in our communities, and that support is available for our residents and businesses to help us all get through these uncertain times.