People from across the London Borough of Hounslow gathered online earlier this month to discuss how to support and empower communities through coronavirus and the looming economic and social impact. Jon Varney, Brentford FC Chief Executive, was among those taking part in the session. Hounslow is expected to be one of the hardest hit boroughs with 42,500 residents on furlough, 47.7 per cent of jobs in severely impacted sectors, and a forecasted £1bn loss to the local economy because of the reduced number of visitors to Heathrow. At the session, 210 delegates from local community groups, businesses, public sector partners and residents attended what is thought to be the first borough-wide recovery conference of any local authority in the UK to help shape a joint vision for Hounslow's recovery through workshops and discussions.
Councillor Steve Curran, Leader of Hounslow Council, said: “We had a fantastic conference and we heard some really inspiring stories from some of those who’ve been on the front line in responding to the pandemic. I want to say thank you to everyone who came and to everyone who is now working on Hounslow’s recovery.
“We know there are some very tough times ahead, but our borough has been one of the first off the block to start planning to mitigate the social and economic challenges we know are around the corner. If we keep up this impetus, and we build on the collaboration we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic and at the conference today, we can rise to these challenges and build a stronger and more prosperous borough for all our residents.”
The conference began with acknowledging and thanking the residents, community organisations, businesses, and public sector partners who have contributed to the borough’s response to coronavirus. A video was played to delegates which told some of the story, and the conference heard from individuals who had been involved.
Talac Mahmud, GP at Firstcare Practice, said: "It's been a bit like having a baby. You can put up with one or two sleepless nights but anymore it becomes quite difficult. So I want to give a big shout out to healthcare workers who have gone above and beyond during coronavirus."
Ray Singh, Managing Director of Feltham based Russell Finex, talked about the preparation his company had taken ahead of lockdown. "We weren't really geared up to allow our people to work from home but seeing the warning signs we started to set ourselves up. We had to find a way to keep going because our business serves key industries like food and pharmaceuticals."
The Voices of Riana Project has been collecting perspectives on the experience of Covid-19 from students between the ages of 8-14. Munir, whose poem appears in the project’s anthology, told the conference: "Covid19 has meant we've all had time to reflect and we realise now what really matters, like how important healthcare workers and teachers are to us."
Niall Bolger, Chief Executive of Hounslow Council, presented on the economic impact of cornonvirus and set out recovery plans which the Council and its partners have been putting together over the summer. The conference broke up into a series of workshops which explored aspects of recovery in more detail. Delegates discussed employment; community, business and voluntary sector action; low carbon neighbourhoods; keeping it local and supporting local businesses; digital communities; health, wellbeing and reducing isolation; preparing for winter in the context of Covid; and young people.
After the workshops, the conference came together again for a panel discussion to reflect on the day and set out the ways forward. The panellists were:
Seema Malhotra, the MP for Feltham and Heston, said there is an opportunity for Heathrow Airport to "set a way in which aviation recovers around the world".
She added: "It would be great if we could see that in a way that brings in investment and helps to create the new green jobs for the future and be done in partnership with local schools, FE and the Feltham Skills Centre because that's some of the sustainable skills base that will see Heathrow through the next generation of change".
Becky Coffin, Director of Communities at Heathrow Airport, said: “Climate change, from a UK perspective, remains the critical challenge, so our focus is how we can improve carbon emissions in relation to flights and at the same time reduce the emissions related to the infrastructure of the airport. At the beginning of the year we were able to announce that the infrastructure at the airport is carbon neutral, but we don’t want to stop there. On sustainable aviation fuels, what needs to happen there is investment in the UK so that we can produce the fuel because the issue is the lack of supply. There is an opportunity to do that in the UK rather than import the fuel from elsewhere.”
Cllr Steve Curran said: "The times ahead are going to be even more challenging. I know we all have our own views about Heathrow, but we need to protect as many jobs as possible because that will impact families."
Jon Varney said: "When Cllr Curran asked us to join the Hounslow Recovery Board there was absolutely no hesitation from our perspective because we are a football club at the heart of the community. The Brentford Community Sport's Trust has been working tirelessly through the lockdown with the Be At Home and Be Well campaigns. We see our role as trying to amplify the messages we all collectively come together with."
Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford and Isleworth, said: "I want to thank all those people who kept the show on the road in Hounslow. Doing things on a local basis is really important and I hope this conference has put more people in touch to work on solutions.”