AN ICY chill has blown across Oldham this week reminding us all that wintry weather is looming over our shoulders.
Temperatures dropped considerably in recent days and, whilst the prospect of snow can obviously be great fun for young families, it does also have a very serious flip side.
As regular readers of this blog will know, we are striving towards new ways of working and becoming a ‘Co-operative Borough’ where everyone does their bit to achieve positive outcomes – Council, residents and partners alike.
The question I am most frequently asked though is how that works in practice.
Well, there simply cannot be a better example of what it means than that of a resident checking on a neighbour during a wintry spell to ensure they are keeping safe and warm.
The sad truth is that more people are at risk of illness and death during winter than at any other time of the year and I want to use this week’s blog to raise awareness of how we can all play our part to prevent that happening.
I would urge everyone to please look out for those people who may need extra help if and when a cold snap arrives.
That doesn’t mean just your own family members, it also means your neighbours and people you may only be on nodding terms with.
It’s too easy to not recognise that people living on your street might need help and – given the British trait of the ‘stiff upper lip’ – they’re also unlikely to actively seek out your assistance.
The fact is that a whole raft of things can go wrong during this kind of weather which many of us take for granted as being a minor inconvenience because we are able to sort them out for ourselves.
However, in bad conditions an elderly neighbour might be unable to get to the pharmacy to pick up a vital repeat prescription, or even just to get a loaf of bread or stock up on food to keep them going.
Their boiler might fail and leave them wrapping up in multiple layers of clothing just to keep warm – or they might simply just need a hand to clear and grit their path to prevent them being housebound.
There are some very simple tell tale signs to look out for that often indicate something is wrong.
You might spot that a neighbour still has milk out on their doorstep, for example, or newspapers and post are stuck in a letterbox, or their bins are not put out on collection day.
You may also spot curtains drawn during the day and lights on – or a home in darkness when there is usually somebody there.
It’s not just the icy conditions and freezing temperatures that makes things bad either – it can also be the terrible sense of isolation and loneliness that people feel stuck in their homes without human contact.
We know from talking to residents that if they’re not able to get out and about then it hits them particularly hard. It’s vitally important they at least feel they can stay in contact somehow with neighbours, friends and family – that they know someone is concerned for their welfare.
Bodies like Oldham Council, Age Concern and NHS Oldham do as much as they can during these times but everyone can help us out by going that little ‘extra mile’.
Just knocking on a neighbour’s door to check they are okay, or nipping round for a brew with them can make the world of difference.
It only takes a couple of minutes to call round and – just by offering help – that little bit of caring human contact can make an enormous difference to someone’s wellbeing and morale.
When snowfall does arrive Oldham Council also has a huge task to undertake in trying to keep the Borough moving, so I also want to take this opportunity to briefly draw people’s attention again to our gritting arrangements.
Our highways team does a magnificent job in trying to keep the roads clear but – obviously – it’s simply not possible to clear every road. Like every other Local Authority, we have to prioritise.
Our role, as far as reasonably possible, is to keep the primary highway network free of ice and snow and ensure a safe journey for commuters and – crucially – access for emergency vehicles.
In Oldham this means our resources are targeted at seven priority routes and most of the principal, classified and major bus routes in the Borough. If you want to find out more about this then please have a look at the Council website at: http://www.oldham.gov.uk/transport_streets_1/gritting_routes.htm
The main page at http://www.oldham.gov.uk/winter also contains all the up-to-date news on any road and school closures, keeping your home warm, winter driving and transport, keeping your home warm, plus looking out for other people.
To return to that theme of being a good neighbour and Co-operative working, I just want to finish by mentioning our Budget measures which were approved by Cabinet on Monday.
Times are tough and budgets are tight as we all know, but even when you need to find £24 million in savings you also must keep clear priorities.
Whilst some measures we’ve had to look at are not what I’d want to do in an ideal world, I’m also conscious that some services are more crucial than others.
In particular, I’ve always believed that how you treat the most vulnerable members of society is a very firm measure of the kind of place you are living in: and the values of the administration running it.
That’s why I’m determined that Adult Social Care – which is 28 per cent of our spending – is prioritised. I know how important home care is and – whilst we are looking to remodel how we deliver some services – this will not result in a dilution of what we know to be vital provision to so many residents.
But with that in mind, please do take a little time to play your part and think about your neighbours when the wintry weather arrives.
Between us all we can help to ensure that snowfall doesn’t have to mean misery and isolation for those who fear it most.
Thanks for listening,