With the continuing run of good weather, I am hoping we will all be able to keep enjoying our green spaces, including Richmond Park, where the pedestrian gates are still open although there is no vehicle access. With 2500 acres there is plenty of space for everyone to get fresh air and exercise in Richmond Park while maintaining social distancing. But, please do NOT plan meetups with friends and family there.
Royal Parks have said "We will keep this situation under constant review. If people do not follow social distancing guidelines, we will have no choice but to close the parks." Please help keep these vital spaces open by using them responsibly!
Kew Gardens is now closed, and we do not recommend taking children to the playgrounds as the play equipment will not be safe for them to use. So please go out and enjoy Richmond Park, but at a safe distance from anyone who is not in your household.
INFORMATION FOR PARENTS
I have started compiling a list of resources for parents and would welcome contributions from those of you with interesting links or good ideas. Please email them to my office on email@example.com.
Here are some of my initial contributions:
National Literacy Trust
National Literacy Trust has launched a free online zone for parents with ideas and guidance on activities that will engage their children at home. "Family Zone brings together some of the UK’s most exciting literacy resources and activities in one place. Family Zone is curated for early years to early teens and is full of engaging activities for families to do together."
BBC Bitesize want parents of school age children to know that "Over the coming days and weeks we'll be changing to bring you daily content that supports you as schools close across the UK, to help you with your education and wellbeing." www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize
National Schools Observatory
With clear weather at the moment and reduced emissions in the atmosphere, tonight is a great night to go outside and look at the stars. The National Schools Observatory has maps showing which constellations and planets will be visible when, and where in the sky to look for them. Check out their hour by hour maps here: https://www.schoolsobservatory.org/learn/astro/nightsky/maps
Both Kingston and Richmond Libraries offer free e-books, audiobooks and e-magazines.
If you live in Richmond, please go to this page to find out about how to get a library card and what digital services they offer. https://www.richmond.gov.uk/libraries
If you live in Kingston, their information page is here: https://www.kingston.gov.uk/info/200211/online_library/311/borrow_e-books_and_e-audio_books
Kingston has also produced this friendly video to show residents how to use their service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQLF-SvAP8Y&fbclid=IwAR0HUdLxm9DRU6PuhVm9lZviq3lTUMJoQN0Z1OlTWXd-B98vdxq9NaJ-Yiw
KINGSTON LOCAL NEWS
Kingston has closed its play parks. They hope to keep other parks open, but will only be able to do so if users are complying with social distancing recommendations.
Residents should only come to the market if they, and everyone in their household, is fit and well. The virus can spread more easily in crowded places so people should stand two metres away from other people queuing in the market.
Borough Commander Sally Benatar has been in touch to update me on police activity. She assures me that "We will continue to work around the clock to help keep Londoners safe and they can have confidence that we are planning to ensure we maintain critical services as the virus continues to spread. The Met, and London is extremely resilient. Our officers are, and will continue to be out on the streets and supporting communities."
NEW volunteer signup form is available at www.kingston.gov.uk/kingstonstrongertogether
RICHMOND LOCAL NEWS
Council Tax Assistance
Cllr Robin Brown, Lead Member for Finance at Richmond Council, emailed me to say:
“We understand that significant numbers of people face reductions in their wages and income and in some cases the loss of their jobs altogether. We want to do all we can to help those of our residents who are facing money problems, which is why we won’t take enforcement action if you are temporarily unable to pay your Council Tax. This easing of the rules will continue until the Coronavirus crisis has come to an end. After that we will work with our residents and tenants to help them get Council Tax accounts back on track.”
Richmond Community resilience hub
The government has asked all local authorities to provide a community resilience hub featuring a dedicated telephone number for enquiries about Covid-19, providing support and advice on a very wide range of issue, with a particular focus on the vulnerable and those most in need.
To this end from Tuesday next week Richmond Council is establishing a new call centre, which will be staffed by up to 20 people fielding calls from residents in need of assistance. This line will go live from next Tuesday, March 31, but please make a note of the new dedicated number now: 020 8871 6555.
Please keep signing up to help on the Richmond Council of Voluntary Services (RCVS) web page. The service has been delighted to see so many people offering to help, but would like to ask for your understanding. With so much organising to do and so many volunteers, they may not get back to you immediately. Their web page is here: https://richmondcvs.org.uk/
I have welcomed the government's support for businesses and employees, and their further announcement that self-employed people whose cannot operate their business can apply for sick pay if they are sick or Universal Credit if they are not. The Liberal Democrats have called for sick pay to be increased from £94 per week to £220. We are further proposing a Self-Employed Income Guarantee, whereby the government would guarantee 80% of average annual income over three years, up to a cap of £35,000. This would give true peace of mind to the self-employed. We are also calling for a Citizen's Income - a minimum income guaranteed to all adults.
I am hoping the government will be announcing further measures of financial support today or tomorrow.
A number of major service providers have been in touch about their new policies, including:
BT have written to say: "As more of us are having to stay in touch with our loved ones & public services by going online, BT are offering help on how to do so for people who are not confident using computers. Check out the information available from @BT_UK through their #skillsfortomorrow programme at www.bt.com/skillsfortomorrow"
Ofgem have sent advice regarding residents who may be struggling to pay for their energy, are having difficulty topping up their prepayment meter, or who may be in a vulnerable situation. Their information is being updated as the situation develops, and can be found at ofgem.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19
Thames Water has written to say "We will be offering a 3-month payment holiday to those most in need, and an affordable payment plan starting at £5 per month. We will continue to offer our existing support such as our social tariff, our Customer Assistance Fund, and our Trust Fund as normal. We also have a Priority Services Register where vulnerable individuals can sign up for additional support during an emergency."
Lloyds has emailed me to let me know that they "have earmarked £2bn in the first instance to help our small business customers, by waiving arrangement fees for new overdrafts, overdraft limit increases and new or increased invoice discounting and finance facilities. Repayment holidays will also be available for those businesses most affected. For personal customers ... we have put in place specific help. This includes no fees for missed payments on credit cards, loans and mortgages; payment holidays on mortgages and loans with additional support provided if needed; and emergency access to savings in fixed term accounts without charge if needed. We would urge any customer who is worried about their financial situation because of coronavirus to contact us."
Oyster Card Refunds Available if you are not working and not using your travelcard. Go to https://tfl.gov.uk/fares/refunds-and-replacements/coronavirus
THANK YOU TO NHS STAFF, CARERS AND TEACHERS
Last, but definitely not least, I just wanted to say a huge thank you to all of the key workers who are working so hard and making so many personal sacrifices to keep the NHS going, educate our children and take care of people who are in need of social care. We must all think about the needs of the most vulnerable people among us, and our health, education and social services staff are setting us an exceptional example of public spirit. If you are a key worker, I would like to thank you on behalf of the residents of Richmond Park.