How to be a good neighbour during the lockdown
Two North East councils have teamed up with emergency services to encourage residents to be good neighbours during the Coronavirus pandemic.
It follows new advice issued by the government about how we can safely help others at a time when services such as GPs, community fire and police officers aren't able to get out into communities in the same way they would normally.
Ourselves and Darlington Borough Council are working with partners to share advice and tips that will help communities support each other during these difficult times.
With some vulnerable people having to isolate themselves for a period of 12 weeks in order to be shielded from the virus, residents are being urged to be good neighbours.
Accept help from family, friends and neighbours
People are advised to accept help from family, friends and neighbours where possible, with some ways of supporting each other including offering to collect essential food items or prescriptions on their behalf. To do so safely, it should be done while residents are either getting their own essentials or taking their daily exercise, with reminders that those essentials should be left on the doorstep, ensuring social distancing guidelines are followed. Local GPs or pharmacies may also be able to arrange a delivery for prescriptions.
Offering emotional support is another part of supporting neighbours. Many people are feeling anxious or worried as a result of the pandemic and a simple conversation over the fence or on the telephone could make a big difference to someone who is feeling isolated.
Virtual community hubs
Anyone in need of extra support or feeling more isolated can also access the virtual community hubs set up by both us and Darlington Borough Council.
The community hubs were developed to support people and families who are vulnerable and in need during the Coronavirus pandemic, linking them to existing local services where possible and supporting them with essential aid where necessary.
Cllr Lucy Hovvels MBE, our Cabinet member for adult and health services, said: "It is more important than ever to look out for each other. As the lockdown period continues many people, especially those who are vulnerable, will feel increasingly anxious and isolated.
"Simple and safe steps to keep in touch with those people, offer to collect some essentials for them, or even to point them towards our community hubs if they need more support, will make a big difference in helping them feel more comfortable."
Councillor Jonathan Dulston, Darlington Borough Council's Cabinet member for stronger communities said: "I am proud that, in Darlington, we are seeing and hearing about wonderful examples of good neighbourliness and people looking out for one another as we continue to face this pandemic.
"The council has been working closely with community groups and hundreds of people have volunteered to help vulnerable people as part of the Darlington Cares: Community initiative. That's great to see. There's never been a better time to get to know your neighbours, especially if they may be vulnerable, in a socially-distanced way of course. All the examples of people helping one another really have been heart-warming to see."
Fire service reminders
At a time when the fire service is unable to carry out usual community visits, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service (CDDFRS) is asking people to remind elderly or vulnerable friends and neighbours to keep checking their smoke alarms and be mindful of fire safety in the home and garden.
Graeme Metcalf, Group Manager for community risk management said: "Being a good neighbour can be as simple as being considerate if you are having a garden fire and when you're having that chat over the fence or at the bottom of the drive, asking if they are ok or need any help or just reminding people to double check their smoke alarms are working - that in itself could save someone's life."
Following a slight rise in the number of garden fires earlier this month, CDDFRS is also asking the public to refrain from burning their garden waste until normal waste disposal services resume. In addition to the concern that garden fires could get out of hand and put people at risk, residents are asked to be considerate to their neighbours who could be using their gardens for the only fresh air that they can get.
Staying safe on and offline
Other ways to support neighbours include reporting any suspicious behaviour to the police or taking part in neighbourhood watch schemes. Durham Constabulary is also reminding people that they can be a good neighbour digitally, as well as in person.
Supt Richie Allen said: "The message about staying safe doesn't just apply to people going out and about. At a time when many more of us are looking to social media and video platforms to stay connected, we would urge people to remember how to stay safe online.
"Make sure you are using recognised platforms to connect with people, don't share large amounts of personal information online - even if it is a fun Facebook quiz and try to stay aware of scams. If you hear about scams or issues, remember to tell your friends and neighbours about them as part of being a good 'digital' neighbour too."
Find more advice on how to be a good neighbour.