Kelham Cooke, leader of South Kesteven District Council, discusses changes as a result of lockdown
As we approach the end of February, we do so with the same optimism and hope with which we started the year, says Kelham Cooke, leader of South Kesteven District Council, in his latest column.
We can all be proud of the progress made with the vaccine roll-out bringing us ever closer to fewer restrictions.A sense of normality, perhaps, but one that will mean so much more after the trials and tribulations of the last 12 months.
It is fair to say the pandemic has brought about significant hardship and challenges across every aspect of our lives which we hope is never repeated. However, it has also brought about change and creativity - delivered at break-neck speed.
Circumstances have forced different thinking – and we have seen many businesses and organisations be less cautious and make brave decisions to sustain and survive. Change that would have previously taken months, or even years, was enacted in days and weeks, and decisions previously considered impossible or too difficult taken because they had to be.
These are lessons that apply not just in families or the private sector, but at South Kesteven District Council too. Over the last year, the council has radically changed the way it works and delivers key services. Face to face services have been reinvented for a virtual age and new services, such as our community hub and business grants, have been set up with speed to support both residents and businesses.
The importance of collaboration has also never been greater. We have worked with neighbouring councils and partners on campaigns and projects - producing information and outcomes far quicker than if we had gone it alone.
In all honesty, would we have reinvented the way that we work without the pressures of the pandemic? Maybe, but probably not at such pace. And should we go back to the normal way of delivering services? Definitely not! Not when we have experienced such progress by approaching things differently.My job is to sustain this new way of working for the benefit of all residents and businesses.
Over the last year, the council has made many ambitious decisions of which we can all be proud. These include teaming up with Burghley Estates to develop proposals for St Martins Park in Stamford and transforming the town’s former St John Ambulance Station on Elm Street into ready-to-rent commercial space.
Other achievements include installing car charging points in Grantham, Stamford and Market Deeping, and securing, in principle, over £5.5m to regenerate Grantham town centre. Further key priorities include protecting the health and wellbeing of our communities by setting up our own leisure company and transforming our arts centres into virtual culture hubs – delivering a programme of online plays and performances.
With tentative signs that infection rates are falling, when society is safe to unlock I am determined that SKDC will continue being ambitious in its approach. I won’t sit back and turn down opportunities or put off difficult decisions until another day. And we certainly won’t return to being normal, because normal just isn’t good enough for our district.