Ali Griffin, CEO of Southend Borough Council, second visit to Love Southend

Ali Griffin, CEO of Southend Borough Council, second visit to Love Southend

At Love Southend’s network gathering on February 7 we were privileged to have Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s CEO, Ali Griffin, join us for a return visit.

Following a time of worship and sharing stories of God’s goodness from across the borough Ali shared her thoughts about the impact of Covid-19 on Southend and her aspirations for life in Southend beyond Covid.

Downsides included:

  • concerns about people being safe in their own home. It was expected that domestic abuse would increase and it probably has, although there has been a decrease in reported cases, which is rather worrying. It may be because people have found it harder to report
  • ncrease in food poverty and digital poverty so families have struggled with home schooling
  • increases in isolation / loneliness / mental health / well-being
  • evident fatigue with Covid and the restrictions.

But there were also upsides:

  • the council helpline was up and running within ten days in March 2020
  • the town has pulled together well this last year. People have gone above and beyond. Neighbours, volunteering, professionals have all stepped up magnificently to the challenges
  • the human capacity to adapt has been evident e.g. the council have had to run services they never expected they would have to run like supervising PPE acquisition and dispersal; giving out millions of pounds to help businesses.
  • Zoom access has resulted in more diverse engagement in council activity and meetings.

Ali went on to speak about her hopes and aspirations for the borough:

  • 2021 could be a harder year than 2020
  • a positive challenge as to how the town and borough moves forward
  • what does the positive engagement of the community in creating the 2050 agenda look like post Covid? Rallying around the worst circumstances for the best purposes
    Read the document here: Southend 2050: It all starts here – FIVE YEAR ROAD MAP TO 2023
  • the council is starting to look at what society will look like post COVID. There is poverty now which will continue and needs to be addressed
  • elections & politics – the government have announced that the elections will take place in May 2021. There will be three elections within the borough. This could cause tensions as these will be different for safety reasons. Plans are underway for these to go ahead in a safe way. A shadowy side has been evident for some politicians – Covid has been as hard for them personally like everyone else and they have had to do politics in a new way
  • major investment in the town is important for regeneration and recovery. Employment opportunities in the coming years. Four areas that are being considered: Climate Change, Caring, Regeneration (e.g. Queensway and the Stadium) and Creative Industries.

A number of questions were put to Ali. One referred to town centre chaplaincy and the re-imagining of the High St. Ali commented that the council has purchased the Victoria Plaza during this past year. First time ever the council has had a property stake in the High St. Now looking at how it can be used to encourage communities back into the high street. Very encouraged that there has been a re-engagement of business commitment to the High St. E.g. premises just off the High St have been purchased to develop cultural activity. Likely to be a re-establishing of a residential community in the High St. The High Street may be broken up into zones with each zone targeting different projects. The top zone (Victoria’s) serving the local communities. The middle zone a cultural space and the lower zone (from the station towards the seafront) to serve the visitor economy.

She was asked what churches or individuals could do to help with the ‘recovery’ phase of the pandemic in addition to praying. Ali recognised the important role churches already play in supporting the community in areas like food distribution and support for the homeless. She suggested we could engage with the issue of digital poverty – government needs to be lobbied about this in the same way they have been lobbied about energy security and poverty. She asked us to help communicate the importance of the community learning to live with Covid, rather than see it eradicated, and to play our part in advising caution as we emerge from high infection rates so that false hope does not result in further devastation.

At the end of an excellent Zoom call we prayed and shared Scriptures for Ali and the Council.

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