Cllr Peter Craske is the Cabinet Member for Places on Bexley Council.
This has been a hard time for everyone, but in Bexley one of the most positive things has been seeing our community come together, even more than we usually do. In the first week of lockdown, our volunteer bureau asked for help, and within a few days over 600 residents signed up.
I was one of them, and I spent two months as part of a group of people delivering hot food to vulnerable residents across the Borough.
For those residents, living alone but used to seeing lots of friends or family regularly, or just being able to say hello to their neighbours, this has been a very difficult time, suddenly faced with being on their own all the time.
Our daily visits became of huge importance for them, someone to talk to for one thing, but also it gave them comfort that, even if no-one else could drop food or goods over, they would get a hot meal everyday. If they needed anything, whether that was essential supplies or medicines collected, we could report that back to the central hub and it would be dropped round. That Hub was also supported by another group of volunteers as well as brilliant Council staff who played a key role in getting essential supplies and food to those who needed it.
For a Conservative borough, like Bexley, community spirit has always been the bedrock of what makes our borough tick, and every day thousands of people volunteer in all sorts of ways, from running charities to organising Scout or Brownie packs. It is just that this crisis has really brought this to the forefront, and we have lots of new volunteers helping out.
One example has been the reaction to the frankly upsetting amounts of litter that has been dropped in parks, even though there are plenty of bins to use. It has been an issue across the country of course – think of the scenes at Bournemouth Beach – but here, while a few people moaned about it on social media while, of course, never actually doing anything to help, we’ve set up a new Parks Volunteer Service, and in the first week of it being launched, 130 residents signed up, to help pick up litter.
They were astonished at the sheer volumes of litter a small minority of people were dropping and even though our parks have plenty of bins and we doubled the number of crews emptying them and picking up litter from the ground, they could see that despite our commitment it was proving an immense challenge – and they wanted to help.
This is both fantastic and unsurprising.
When we set up our Community Litter Picking scheme three years ago, we were unsure how it would go, but we now have over 350 people taking part and making a difference.
Pride in our Borough and standing together as a community has always been a fundamental part of what makes Bexley such a great place, and one of the reasons why 75 per cent of residents recommend it to others as a place to live.
Naturally not everyone agrees with this. Bexley’s Labour Councillors, fresh from a fourth landslide defeat, and who believe it is the role of the state to do everything all the time, opposed the creation of these types of schemes. At a recent Council meeting, one Labour councillor actually condemned volunteering projects like this as a “cheapskate charter.”
But, as with everything else they do, Labour’s sneering attitude remains firmly in the minority.
The real spirit of our Borough, which is encapsulated in our “Do it For Bexley” message, is seen by everyone who rolls up their sleeves, getting on with life, making the community better for everyone.