This week has marked a really positive step forward in the journey towards the end of lockdown, with schools and colleges opening their doors again.

It has been wonderful to see children on their way to school in the morning, eager to see their friends again and resume face-to-face teaching. On Monday many pupils were greeted with balloons as they walked into their schools, which was a lovely celebratory touch. As a school governor, I know how hard our schools have been working in preparation for this week, from organising Covid testing to getting lesson plans in place and ensuring that the buildings are safe for everyone.

I know that teachers and support staff will be making their pupils feel really welcome and will be working over and above to help them adjust and get back into the swing of school life after such a long time studying online, away from the classroom. I’d also like to pay tribute to all the parents who have had such a difficult task over the past few months, homeschooling their children while often working from home themselves, and to our teachers for running online lessons and also keeping the children of our key workers safe in school.

It’s also especially heartwarming to know that care home residents are now being allowed to see one regular, nominated visitor indoors. This contact is hugely important for both our elderly care home residents and their families and I hope that it will bring much comfort to all those concerned.

As part of the Step 1 easing, we can now leave our homes and meet outside with one friend not from our household. As the days lengthen this is a very welcome boost, but as the Government explained last month, lifting restrictions is going to be a very gradual process. It depends on us all continuing to play our part as the vaccine programme carries on being rolled out, so I urge everyone – including those of you, like me, who have had your vaccine – to follow the current guidance. As the adverts say, every space made, every weekend spent at home, every virtual call and every window that you open, all help to reduce infection rates.

Although the roadmap to the end of lockdown is in progress, the financial effects of the past year will be with us long term. If you are experiencing financial hardship then I appeal to you to contact us for advice. There is a lot of help available, and we want to reach out to people before their situation worsens and before people slide into debt or are faced with potential homelessness.

There are many different circumstances affecting people: for example you may have been furloughed, or made redundant, or your household may have suffered the loss of one or both incomes. This may have caused you to fall behind with your rent or mortgage for the first time. Or, you may be a landlord with a single property which acts as your retirement pension but you are currently not receiving any income and don’t know what to do. Our benefits team can offer advice and guidance about your options and where to go for further support.

If your earnings have changed because of the pandemic then you can check www.entitledto.co.uk which is a quick and easy benefits calculator which will tell you if you would be eligible to receive any benefits.

If you need help with your mortgage then we can advise you of the different government help available and options around payment holidays which are offered by mortgage and loan providers.

And if you are struggling with the cost of your council tax I encourage you to get in touch with us to discuss your account so that we can try and work out how we can help you.

We know that there are people in our district who may be struggling with the stress of changes to their financial situation, but help is there and I really urge you to contact us before things get more serious, so that we can provide help and advice. You can find out more information at www.chichester.gov.uk/helpwithfinances

As ever thank you for the part you are playing in the fight against Covid-19, each action we take will make a huge difference.

Best wishes,

Councillor Eileen Lintill

Leader, Chichester District Council