We’ve been here before with Bird Flu and Foot & Mouth said my colleagues as I began to worry about the pandemic happening in China. It will be no different than a bout of Flu. I began to think I was over–reacting.

Commuting to work and getting fed up with the same old song on the radio, (visions of my University Professor tutting in my ear) I began to tune into Radio 4 and listening to professionals around the world beginning to express concern over Covid-19.

During February I began to mind map an action plan should the virus take hold, this was just a doodle on my desk top pad, not really expecting it to become so serious. We started to restrict visitors to the office, some colleagues still in denial, letting residents enter the shared office space, not accepting the seriousness of the situation. It began to dawn on us when the Irish were racing to get home from Cheltenham horse racing festival before lockdown. We drew up a rota to reduce staffing. I began to have trouble sleeping as the overwhelming responsibility of ensuring the workforce and the operation of the Council was safe and effective. At this time there had been no decision on future meetings of the Council, we were being advised to put delegations in place. To begin to restrict play areas, cemeteries, open spaces, provide risk assessment, PPE – the list was endless. My evenings and weekends were consumed with endless email advice and changing legislation. My Clerks network around the country was an invaluable resource, my Chairman, Vice Chairman and Assistant Clerk set up a Whattsapp communication – I was not alone.

Luckily we are a forward thinking Council who has already initiated flexible working to attract a wider diverse of staff, all of the administrative team have the capability to work from home without any negative effect on output. What we did not anticipate were the effects of ‘home schooling’, working with spouses, partners, family members, pets, isolation, not being able to obtain essential groceries, Lockdown was a great shock.

The Lockdown and school closure took us by surprise, a day before my birthday, and the first 4 weeks were manic. Not only did I have concern about my own family and two children who both live independently now but I had a responsibility to ensure my colleagues were all safe, especially those that could not work from home such as the Open Spaces team, this was challenging as they found themselves vulnerable and felt ‘left out in the cold’.  The library was shut down, and all community hall bookings had to be cancelled, together with planned events taking place.  There was confusion regarding furlough, the responsibility was immense and myself and Senior Officers were working round the clock to ensure everything was in place.

Amongst all this we had the added concern of financially supporting the Leisure Centre who were 9 months into a 15-year lease and the fear of terminating the lease if the Council did not step into help them – the work on this again was immense, confidentially keeping it from work colleagues, liaising with solicitors and preparing it all for Council decision at the same time supporting other emergency work. Emergency virtual meetings had to be arranged using technology that was relatively new to Officers and Parish Councillors. On my first meeting, I got in a panic, could not connect the sound so ended up ringing my son in Bristol to assist me, forgetting that the microphone was still on so the whole meeting could hear my despair. I still put on fresh perfume for a virtual meeting – why ??

Luckily the Council is very community minded and soon sprang into action supporting the community, 3 members of the team predominately deal daily with residents queries, organising volunteer help, weekly shopping, collection of prescriptions, delivery of books to care homes. We teamed up with Swindon Borough Council, voluntary organisations and Stratton Junior Football Club to ensure hot meals are delivered to the most vulnerable, they have been amazing heroes to the community.

5pm news has a new meaning now and we will be prepared for whatever is thrown at us.

I am lucky to have recently moved to a new home with a very large overgrown garden.  This had been vacant for over 2 years so my stress relief is gardening, I also volunteer for the local parish Council in the village and help vulnerable residents, I also pot up self-seeded plants and leave them at the front of my house for people to help themselves during Lockdown.  In return I have been left all sorts of gifts in return such as fresh eggs, hand-made soap and body cream. I have also made quite a few new friends as I settle into village life. I miss my family terribly and can’t wait to hug them all.

Personally, it is stressful ensuring the safety and welfare of your work colleagues, they have exceeded all expectations, we meet weekly via Zoom to ensure that they are not feeling isolated and to discuss priorities and the Council put their trust in us to continue to deliver a first-class service.   I hope the residents feel proud and honoured to have such a dedicated Council working on their behalf, I know I do.

Tracy Predeth – CEO/Clerk to the Council, Stratton St Margaret Parish Council