Oh how quickly our world has changed. In my previous blog, written at the start of March, I encouraged readers to tune into borough council meetings on Youtube so that they could see what was being discussed in these public meetings. However, with COVID-19, it would appear that my enthusiasm for the council's leap into the 21st century, by using technology to keep us connected and involved in council business, may have been a little premature.
Some may say that I was naive back in the days before COVID-19, when we were free to go out at will, spend time with friends and family and even enjoy a pint in the pub. March seems like a lifetime ago. And unfortunately during that time, the council hasn't quite managed to get to grips with the changing times to make sure that democracy and transparency in the management of the council is upheld.
The first virtual licensing committee meeting
It is only in the last two weeks that virtual public meetings have been held and, on Tuesday, I took part in the licensing committee meeting which is now available on Youtube . I must say that I was surprised at the level of hand-holding that I was offered in the run up to this meeting. Calls from multiple officers to confirm that I would be using council-issued hardware, then calls to ensure that I knew how to use MSTeams (the Conservative group has been using this for our weekly meetings with the Gold crisis team throughout the crisis), posting the meeting documents to us, holding technical rehearsals for the meeting to ensure everyone is able to use the system - all ahead of the meeting itself. I don't think I've had so much support for attending a meeting since I was elected!
For those who don't know, the licensing committee is responsible for “all matters relating to the discharge by the borough council of it's licensing functions” under 10 acts ranging from licensing and gambling to zoo Licensing and hypnotism. The full agenda of our virtual meeting is available here . We were being asked to review and adopt two reports.
The first report, an updated version of the terms of reference for licensing, details responsibilities and elaborates on what is a very short reference in the council constitution. The second, a more detailed report on the council's new licensing policy for the years 2020-2025 that needs to be approved by the borough council before November 2020 when the current policy expires.
Like most of the reports we get, there are multiple references made to other reports, studies, plans and acts, mostly referenced in such a way that it is expected that we should know each of these in detail. For anyone who has tried to navigate around the council website, I'm sure you can understand my frustration that the documents created to help us often leave us with more questions.
I therefore requested that these references be hyperlinked wherever possible to ensure that we, as a council, can make it easier for all of us to access the required information. This is with the knowledge that the way we now access information has changed dramatically in the last 10 years and, just because a report of policy was published a certain way in the past, doesn't mean that it cannot be updated for modern, everyday use.
My So COVID Life
My life over the past two months hasn't been all licensing. I have also been working with my fellow Conservative councillors to put together our statement on walking and cycling [link here statement on cycling . Some would say it is an overdue document on what we really think about cycling in Chiswick and across the borough. The lockdown has given us the opportunity to breathe and focus on what we really want to say, and what we have been trying to say for the past two years. Obviously, the fact that our streets have been quieter has been a great catalyst for more people to cycle. What we now need to focus on is how we keep them cycling and keeping our roads safe in the future.
The need to promote social distancing while out and about has been a bit of an ongoing battle. The age-old saga of cyclists on Strand on the Green, and lack of signage along this beautiful and popular route, does not seem to have stopped. Both Cllr Sam Hearn and I have had multiple email exchanges with the council's transport officer Mark Frost about appropriate signage along this stretch of the Thames Path and, on investigation yesterday, I now have photographic evidence of the need for more signs to be put in place. I have a feeling that some of the signs that went up in April have been destroyed by the wind. I did spot this little one on the railing, that is still managing to cling on!
For those who can't read the small print, the sign states:
“Great View. And this piece of railing is the most touched/leant on along here. Suggest washing your hands after stopping here”
A small reminder to myself never to leave the house without a small bottle of anti-bac in my pockets or bag and, in hay fever season, tissues and maybe a packet of hand wipes. Tools that I always take when travelling abroad, but have now become a staple at home too – yet another change, however one I can control and which will have a benefit to my own mental health at this time.
Managing mental health and appreciating neighbourliness
I don't know about you, but throughout this period, there have been numerous posts on all forms of social media about mental health, or it could be that I am just paying a bit more attention to them now than before.
According to Mind , every year in the UK one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. Change can exacerbate this so I have found it extremely encouraging to see the sense of community that has arisen. Formal groups like the Chiswick COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group , or the offers of help via NextDoor.com to neighbours happy to add a loaf of bread, eggs, or other necessities to their online shop for those who aren't able to leave their homes, or a simple phone call to check in on someone you haven't spoken to for a while.
All these small acts of kindness have been gratefully received, reminding me of a line from Avenue Q: “When you help others, you can't help helping yourself”. Somewhat cynical, perhaps, but, when alongside another quote I have been seeing: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind” it's a reminder that by being good to each other, we can also be good to ourselves.
ON VE Day I popped round to my parent's home to enjoy a doorstop beer. They stayed one side of the wall, and I stayed on the pavement. It was a true pleasure to see their neighbours, some of whom have known me since I was a child, and others I am getting to know, and their children, reminding me of all the neighbourly family summer afternoons I spent there. So, I suppose, as much as things may be changing around us, in a way things haven't really changed, reminding me of another saying: “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” - the more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps we all needed a break away from our manic 21st century lives to remind us of what really matters. Love.
Cllr Gabriella Giles