Category Archives: Coronavirus

EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK AUTHORITY RESPONSE TO PM’S ANNOUNCEMENT

In response to yesterday’s (Tuesday) announcement from the Prime Minister that significant parts of the hospitality and tourism sectors can begin reopening from 4 July, Dan James, Exmoor National Park Authority’s Sustainable Economy Manager, said: “Tourism is by far the single largest part of Exmoor’s economy, contributing almost £130m a year. So it’s encouraging that the Government is advising it will soon be safe for people to come here on holiday and enjoy its many pubs, cafes and attractions once again. There is the added pressure that many farmers have also diversified into tourism, meaning the picture-postcard landscape of hilltop farms and heather moorland for which Exmoor is so famous is also inextricably linked to tourists’ return.

“National Parks were created to inspire people and we know that Exmoor holds a very dear place in many people’s hearts, whilst others are now being inspired to visit for the first-time following lockdown. We would ask those considering trips to plan ahead and follow government and local guidelines, including the updated Covid Countryside code. Our National Park Centres will have all reopened by 4 July to offer advice and information to help people explore Exmoor safely, responsibly and enjoyably.

“Our tourism businesses together provide around 2,300 full-time jobs – 60 per cent of employment locally – and throughout the pandemic we’ve been working hard to help them plan their recovery. We know many are going the extra mile to put people’s minds at rest and make things as safe as possible, but it goes without saying that local communities coming together to support each other is what’s getting people through, and on Exmoor that feeling has never been stronger.”

PHOTO by Jane Mares.

SCHOOLS AND NATIONAL PARK RANGERS THINK INSIDE THE BOX TO FEED FAMILIES

Remote households in the wilds of Exmoor are getting vital food supplies delivered to their door during the coronavirus emergency thanks to some innovative teamwork.

The Moorland Federation of Schools is working with Exmoor National Park Authority to help those families who live miles from any supermarket – with teachers joining forces with National Park Rangers to make it happen.

Staff from the federation’s schools – Exford, Cutcombe, Dunster, St Dubricius and Timberscombe – are making up and delivering food boxes to families containing essentials such as soup, bread, potatoes, beans, pasta, cheese, milk, eggs and tinned food, and thanks to the Rangers they’re getting the deliveries to the most remote households.

The pilot food box scheme, aimed at helping schoolchildren eligible for free school meals, is set to be rolled out across Somerset soon.

Somerset County Council will be offering a food box scheme to its schools as an alternative to the e-voucher because for some families getting to shops is not easy especially in rural areas.

The Federation is providing school places for key workers and vulnerable children at its Dunster site, which also has its own kitchen.

Staff there have been making up the vital food boxes.

Dunster School Head Teacher Naomi Philp said it was a “privilege” to help, adding: “Schools are the heart of communities, we have to do all we can, we have to be innovative, creative and determined to find solutions.

“When you see how pleased people are to receive something, or you make the provision hours fit for an NHS worker, or you hear the relief when you simply say ‘yep, we can help with that’, it makes it all worthwhile.

“I have truly incredible teams who rise to the challenge, without them we couldn’t make it work.  A huge thank you to our staff and to our additional team members, our coaches from Number1West Somerset and to James Howarth from Kilve Court.”

Charlotte Wray, Exmoor National Park Ranger, said: “The work of the Ranger team has inescapably shifted away from the usual day job and we are doing what we can to help out in the community.

“The National Park Authority has offered support to local agencies and when Dunster School approached us about helping deliver free school meals to children, we were happy to help. As the crisis deepens support like this will be even more vital to ensure the needs of vulnerable residents and those in self-isolation are met.

“Many local groups are emerging to help co-ordinate efforts and it’s great to see everyone pulling together to support each other.”

Meanwhile Naomi’s colleague, Head Teacher Chris Blazey from St Dubricious school, drove 140 miles to collect food from a food charity to be distributed across West Somerset.

The local youth club Minehead Eye, has been repurposed as a sorting station and local charities including Home start, and Citizens Advice working with the food bank and Village Agents are ensuring the food reaches those that need it most.

For more information on schools, education and services and support across Somerset during the current coronavirus emergency visit here www.somerset.gov.uk/coronavirus/

CRAFTERS RALLY TO DECORATE DUNSTER VILLAGE THIS SUMMER

Crafters of all ages are dusting off their sewing machines and seeking out remnants of fabric to make bunting to adorn the medieval village of Dunster this summer. The brainchild of the team at the Dunster Tourism Forum (DTF), the idea is to bring the community together to make this beautiful village even more attractive to visitors once lockdown is over.

The DTF has been amazed by the response to their call for willing crafters to help sew their way to a pretty display of hand-made bunting this summer. People up and down the village – as well as Exmoor locals who love Dunster – have answered the call to create bunting flags from old curtains and duvet covers, scraps of dressmaking material and unwanted clothing. The plan is to decorate the village from the Visitor Centre, down through the High Street, up Church Street, West Street and to the GP Surgery at the end of the village. The wonderful beach chalet community are also coming together to create bunting across the iconic waterfront.

Andy Rice, Chairman of the DTF, says: “It’s been heart-warming to see the massive response to what was just one Facebook post asking for volunteers to help decorate our village this summer as we look forward to the end of lockdown.

“Even though we can’t be together in person at the moment, this community effort has been a great way of our villagers keeping in touch with one another, and maintaining our ‘can-do’ spirit. Plus, with so many people getting involved, we’ve got our eye on the Guinness World Record for the longest hand-made bunting in the UK – but we’ll need a lot more volunteers to achieve that.”

Villager Susan Ashton (pictured) is leading the volunteers, and hopes many more people will come forward to create bunting flags in their spare hours during this extended lockdown period. While strictly exercising social distancing, crafters are following a pattern and ‘how to’ videos posted on the community’s Facebook page, and delivering them to Susan who will bring them all together.

Susan says: “The bunting is easy to make, so stitchers of all levels of expertise can get involved. It’s a great way to spend time during lockdown, and to use up scraps of fabric and material, which has the added benefit of making it a sustainable activity. I’ve been posting videos on Facebook to show how to cut the template and construct the bunting, and I’m enjoying that so much that we have a Zoom chat planned where we can show each other what we’ve created.”

If you’d like to be part of this community effort, and help achieve that Guinness World Record,  please contact bunting@group365.co.uk to get involved. You don’t need to live or work in Dunster, and all contributors will be mentioned on their Facebook page and entered into a prize draw to win one of four vouchers worth £15 to spend in the village.

For those of you on Facebook, full information, templates and a helpful video can be found at: www.facebook.com/discoverdunster

Photos by Nina Dodd.

‘THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING OUR PLACE OF WORK’ SAY EXMOOR FARMERS

Ahead of the Easter weekend, Exmoor National Park Authority along with the Exmoor Hill Farming Network is reminding people to stay close to home during the coronavirus pandemic and to take extra care when exercising on public rights of way that pass near farms or homes.

Dave Knight, Chairman of the Exmoor Hill Farming Network, said: “Spring is always a busy time on the farm with lambing and calving. Farmers are literally working around the clock to help feed the nation and it’s understandable they don’t want the extra worry of contamination to gates and property. Ultimately this is our place of work so I’m pleased that most people are being respectful of that by using alternative routes where possible and sticking to government guidelines.”

Some farmers and residents have voiced concerns about increased use of public rights of way by local people following the lockdown restrictions. In response the National Park has produced an easily downloadable poster on their website that can be displayed to remind people of the Coronavirus Countryside Code:

  1. Use open spaces near where you live.
  2. Stay least 2 metres away from other people.
  3. Avoid touching shared surfaces and clean hands regularly.
  4. Leave gates as you find them.
  5. Keep dogs under close control (at heel or on a lead).

Defra advice is that risk of the coronavirus being passed on to others from people using public rights of way is very low if they follow these simple steps.

Exmoor National Park Authority Chairman, Robin Milton, farms sheep and cattle with his son near Dulverton. He said: “We ask local people to remember that many of the rights of way, paths, gates and stiles they might encounter on Exmoor are on farmers’ land and near their homes, where they are carrying out essential work.

“Whilst exercising is essential for physical and mental wellbeing, I ask everyone to respect the ban on non-essential travel and wherever possible to seek routes away from rural homes and farms when using local paths.

“By taking these simple steps, we are all doing our bit to protect our brave NHS workers and save lives.”

The law in England does not allow the National Park Authority to close any part of the public rights of way network for COVID-19 reasons. But anyone with concerns about public access can contact the National Park’s Ranger team for advice at info@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk or 01398 323665.

For further information about safe rights of way use or to download the poster see: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/enjoying/out-and-about-essentials.

NEW GRANT SCHEME TO SUPPORT THE WORK OF NORTH DEVON COMMUNITY AND VOLUNTARY GROUPS DURING COVID-19 OUTBREAK

Local councils are joining together to provide a new grant scheme to help fund the vital work of North Devon community and voluntary groups during the coronavirus outbreak.

North Devon Council is joining with Devon County Council in the new COVID-19 Prompt Action Fund providing grants of up to £500. Both councils are contributing 50% of the total of the grants awarded to each group with funding partly coming from contributions from each North Devon district councillor’s community councillor grant for the year.

The grants have been introduced to help tackle the social and economic impacts of the virus outbreak and help those who are most vulnerable in North Devon communities, they can be used towards activities including:

  • safe delivery of essential goods and services to people who are isolating, including food and medicine
  • supporting people to access online information and services
  • starting virtual support groups to help people who are isolated to stay connected and to improve mental health and wellbeing
  • transport related projects, including the use of voluntary car schemes to deliver essentials, medicine and meals

Applications are invited from established Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector groups, town and parish councils, charities or businesses, or a combination of these working together.

Groups, small local businesses and individuals without their own separate bank account may also apply, but they will need to have the support of a recognised organisation – such as town and parish council, local Community and Voluntary Services (CVS) organisation, village hall or other established local voluntary groups – acting on their behalf as guarantor or as the holder of the funding.

Leader of North Devon Council, Councillor David Worden, says: “I’m incredibly proud that North Devon Council has this opportunity to work alongside Devon County Council and help further support the vital work of our community and voluntary groups during this really challenging time. The work provided by these groups across the district is absolutely amazing and vitally important to helping our residents get through this difficult time. I am also extremely pleased that each district councillor, whatever their political background, has chosen to contribute financially to this scheme.”

Cabinet Member for Communities at Devon County Council, Councillor Roger Croad, says: “At extremely challenging times like this it is important that we all work together to support our residents, especially the most vulnerable.

“I’m particularly pleased that North Devon Council are joining the COVID – 19 Prompt Action Fund which has received in excess of 260 applications from organisations across the county already, after opening just over two weeks ago.

“This funding will help volunteer groups in Devon continue their vital work to tackle the impacts of the coronavirus in their communities and offer support to those in need.”

More information about the fund and how to apply can be found on the North Devon Council coronavirus support for groups and volunteers web pages.

Keep up to date with the latest coronavirus news, information and support available to residents, groups and businesses on the council websites and by signing up for e bulletins

North Devon Council – coronavirus advice – newsletter sign up

Devon County Council – coronavirus advice – newsletter sign up

 

WELLINGTON SCHOOL ACT DURING THE CRISIS

Meanwhile, over at Wellington School, although the doors are closed, the school remains committed to doing everything possible to support the local community. Here are some of the steps which they have taken:

  • Car parks have been given over to overflow patients from the local hospital
  • The Headmaster, Eugene du Toit, is in communication with local hospitals to offer the school’s boarding houses to NHS staff who will be working long shifts or who need to self-isolate. There is also the possibility that certain categories of patients (e.g. those in long-term care, but who don’t have critical medical issues) could use our boarding houses if beds need to be made available to cope with COVID-19 related pressures
  • So far, 55 pairs of goggles and hundreds of surgical gloves have been donated to the procurement department of Musgrove Hospital
  • Children of key workers continue to be looked after by staff, with activity primarily based in the Prep School.

The pupils have a full remote learning programme in place. The timetable is stuck to rigidly, with skype sessions, learning platforms and resources in place to ensure lessons are delivered.

The Headmaster delivered his end-of-term assembly remotely to all the community and reminded them that, “Wellington School is not defined by whether or not we are all in one place at the same time. We are defined by our sense of community, the lengths we go to in supporting one another, our indefatigable spirit in rising to a challenge. We are in this together and we will get through this together.”

WEST BUCKLAND SCHOOL SUPPORT LOCAL MEDICS BY PRODUCING FACE PROTECTION MASKS

West Buckland School’s Design and Technology Department has responded to the urgent need for PPE (personal protection equipment) for key workers in North Devon, by starting to make plastic face masks using the school’s 3-D printer.

In addition, the science departments at the school have donated all the safety goggles and glasses that they currently have in stock, to local doctors’ surgeries in North Devon and the school’s caterers have donated fruit and veg waste to Exmoor Zoo to feed to their animals.

Initially approached by a local GP surgery, the DT team sourced a template for the PPE face masks off the internet and used PLA (polylactide), a biodegradable material which is both suitable to protect medical staff when treating potential Covid-19 patients and can also be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way. Production is in full swing and already the school has been able to supply protective masks to North Devon Hospice and South Molton Community Hospital who are both delighted. A spokeswoman from the hospice said: “Thank you so much. This is very thoughtful and innovative of you.”

The school are hoping to continue to produce more masks as long as there is a need. They have begun to co-ordinate a small team of individuals and local companies who own 3-D printers and there are several other companies across the region who are doing similar excellent work, ensuring that as many key workers across the region as possible can receive the vital protection they need.

SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST LAUNCHES #WILDLIFEWINDOW SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN TO LET WILDLIFE HELP OUR WELLBEING DURING SELF ISOLATION AND SOCIAL DISTANCING

Somerset Wildlife Trust has launched a social media campaign called #wildlifewindow across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to encourage people in Somerset to share the wildlife they see outside their windows and in their gardens, as well as share positive actions they are taking for nature while at home during the covid-19 outbreak.

With so many people now working from home, self-isolating or social distancing, the campaign #wildlifewindow aims to continue to get people to connect with nature and wildlife, even though it is currently more difficult to go outside, and demonstrate that their spaces, large or small, are homes to wildlife where they can make a difference. Somerset Wildlife Trust hopes this will help keep morale high, reduce feelings of isolation by allowing people to communicate with a community of other wildlife-lovers, and reduce the feelings of being ‘trapped’, bored or like they can’t do anything to help wildlife when indoors.

They want you use the hashtag #wildlifewindow across the social media channels in order to share what wildlife you can see out of your window whilst in isolation, or what you are doing for wildlife while at home or in your garden – whether that’s getting around to making that hole in your fence for hedgehogs or putting water out for the birds.

Head of Communications, Kirby Everett said, “Evidence shows that connecting with nature helps people feel happier and healthier, improving both physical and mental wellbeing. We hope that by encouraging people to enjoy and value the wildlife on their doorstep and through their window, the current distancing or isolation measures will be easier to withstand and may even create a great sense of community online in a difficult time. We also hope that it might lead to positive changes in terms of how people value of nature after isolation ends, and also drive more people to act for it at a time it needs us the most.”

As at 18th March (please check the Trust’s website for latest info) Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserves currently remain free and open to all and are excellent places to unwind with wildlife, get fresh air, clear your head and exercise away from any crowd, if you are not in government advised self-isolation. However, they do recommend you take sensible precautions, taking into account the health and safety of yourself and others if you do choose to enjoy the reserves during this time.

Somerset Wildlife Trust will be sharing the #wildlifewindow images and posts they receive, as well as hoping to share short videos, images and interesting wildlife facts to keep us all entertained. You can follow them on Facebook on Somerset Wildlife Trust, Twitter on @SomersetWT and Instagram on @somersetwt.

Photo by Ben Hall.