Last year, Waltham Forest became London’s first ever Borough of Culture. Residents, businesses, and visitors celebrated the vibrant culture, sense of community and everyday acts of kindness that make Waltham Forest the best place to live in London.
Today, these festivities seem a lifetime ago. The tragedy and disruption caused by Covid-19 has hit Waltham Forest hard. We face traumatic and uncertain times. Many of us worry about the health, livelihoods and education of ourselves and our families, and face the difficulty of being separated from loved ones. Unfortunately, the crisis is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and the government have made it clear that we face ongoing restrictions and further interventions to keep us safe.
The pandemic’s impacts have not been felt evenly. Covid-19 has shone a stark light on the endemic social and economic inequalities faced by some of our residents. As we continue to respond to the unfolding health and economic crisis, we will do all we can to address the structural challenges and financial pressures too many of our residents and businesses face.
As we drive Waltham Forest’s covid-19 response, we will recognise the borough’s many strengths. The scale of the challenge is unprecedented, but we can be confident in our ability to deliver locally. We will continue to build on our collective strengths, which we have shown in both celebration and adversity.
Since the start of the pandemic the response from people in Waltham Forest has been inspirational. Many of our residents are key workers: from shop staff, to bus drivers and food distributors as well as those working across our public and health services. They have kept our borough going throughout the crisis, alongside considerable work from important local charities and support groups. Local NHS and social care workers have given vital service in the face of huge adversity. We owe them all our deepest gratitude, and in some cases our lives.
People have volunteered in unprecedented numbers, with more than 4,000 residents registering to help within our communities, alongside self-organising groups throughout the borough. Everyday acts of kindness have been inspiring: acts of help from neighbours; the patience of parents facing the difficult task of home-schooling; and volunteers on the front-line delivering food and providing care. We saw that public service can be performed by anyone, anywhere.
The Covid-19 crisis has required us to innovate and find new ways to make a difference for our residents and businesses. As a council we have sought to listen, understand, and lead, through unparalleled uncertainty. We have been right not to wait for instructions from central government or rely on old definitions of our roles. We have worked flexibly, alongside communities, solving problems across organisational boundaries.
This Public Service Strategy creates a new, all-encompassing definition of public service. It focuses on the most pressing challenges we face, to allow us to quickly respond to the issues Covid-19 has brought to the borough. This includes new responsibilities to embrace to keep our residents safe but also bold new actions to support our residents while remaining focussed on a long-term positive future for Waltham Forest. It recognises everyone’s role in public service and alters the role of the council from provider to partner.
Achieving our priorities will require us to stand together in Waltham Forest. It is through public service, in all its forms, that we will support the borough through the Covid-19 crisis, and ensure that Waltham Forest emerges better and stronger in times ahead.
Cllr Clare Coghill - Leader of the Council Martin Esom - Chief Executive