As we hear more encouraging news in response to this dreadful Covid-19 virus, I am acutely aware as council leader that for many families across Croydon this health crisis is now becoming an economic crisis as well.
It’s never been more important to support local businesses, especially employers and their individual staff whose livelihoods have been massively impacted by lost income over several months now.
The borough reached a bit of a watershed this week when we began opening up our town and district centre shops on Monday after the government lifted some further restrictions.
The council has worked with partners across transport, business, safety and the voluntary sector, all supporting local businesses to restart safely while observing Covid-19 guidelines.
This work has included widening pavements, putting up new signs, creating one-way systems and adapting our streets and public spaces so residents feel confident shopping local while following guidelines. Particular thanks go to Croydon BID, whose hi-vis Croydon Champions volunteers in Croydon town centre have helped people stay Covid-19 safe while shopping.
There was a notable surge in shopper numbers on Monday, with people understandably excited to be shopping again. However, the best bit of feedback we received is that almost everyone is sticking to government rules on social distancing and patiently waiting their turn to be allowed into shops.
Most importantly, early feedback also shows people are shopping in their local small shops and district centres rather than getting in the car and driving further from home. This is really encouraging, as it’s good for shops across the borough and limits the continuing risk of Covid-19.
So let’s keep making sure that, if you do leave home to shop, shop locally, stay safe and follow the signs and Covid-19 advice. Health remains our number one priority both at home and around other people.
With the evenings drawing longer and the weather getting warmer, people will be turning their thoughts to when they’re allowed to have a socially-distanced drink at the pub. Although the government has proposed that restrictions will be lifted on 4 July around bars and pubs, restaurants and the night-time economy, we wait for this date to be confirmed and for details of what steps businesses will need to take, for example to ensure social distancing can be maintained.
In the meantime council officers, together with colleagues from the police and Croydon BID, have held a meeting online with town centre pubs and bars to discuss how they might be able to help them safely accommodate customers, and we intend to provide similar information to licensees around the borough, ahead of more details from government.
We continue to help Croydon businesses, including new GLA-funded support to this borough’s thriving cultural sector, as well as passing on government grants to thousands of local companies. There are still some local businesses that are eligible for government money but have not yet applied, and our officers are following up with them by phone, by email and on doorsteps so we get the message across they are eligible for help.
Yet thousands of people’s jobs are furloughed and many more people face uncertainty, and in light of this we will do everything we can as a council to ensure Croydon is in the best possible shape to ride the economic storm that is looming.
In direct response to this challenge, we have taken action by setting up a sustainable economic renewal board, which meets for the first time next week. Working as Croydon Together and bringing together the public and private sector, colleagues and university providers, it will ensure we leave no stone unturned in seeking to protect existing businesses, help people who have lost their jobs, and do all we can to continue to bring new companies both small and large to Croydon.
As well as supporting local businesses we must all support each other and our communities in these challenging times, as it’s crucial that we help one another to navigate our way through this.
I am incredibly proud of the diversity of this borough’s communities, and one way we will be supporting them next week is through marking three important events in our calendar – Windrush Day, Armed Forces Week and Global Pride.
Ordinarily, these are opportunities for people to come together in large groups, stand tall and celebrate the immense importance of these causes to this borough. Although Covid-19 restrictions mean we unfortunately still cannot celebrate these events as fully as we have in previous years, they are too important to pass by unmarked.
So on Monday outside the town hall we will raise the Windrush flag to celebrate the borough’s Windrush community, their descendants and the diversity that British Commonwealth citizens bring to the borough. We are proud to celebrate this special day, which remembers the arrival of migrants from the Caribbean who helped rebuild post-war Britain over 70 years ago, and honours the modern-day communities in Croydon who are their incredible legacy.
That evening we will raise a flag to mark Armed Forces Week, which celebrates the forces community, from troops serving currently to veterans, service cadets and their families. Croydon has long supported the Armed Forces and was the first local authority to sign a community covenant which encourages those living and working in the borough to support the armed forces community.
And on Friday 26 June we will raise the rainbow flag to take part in Global Pride, an international celebration that brings the LGBTQ+ community together across the world. We’ve been very active in celebrating Pride in recent years, and while Covid-19 prevents us from hosting PrideFest this year, marking this celebration and a show of equality and diversity remains incredibly important.
Stay safe and look after each other.
Councillor Tony Newman, leader of the council