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Keeping South Wairarapa running safely

June 8, 2020 June 2020 No Comments

Virtually all jobs at South Wairarapa District Council are “essential”, even in normal times.   The big challenges during the lockdown were setting up staff to work effectively remotely and establishing precautions to protect staff and contractors on the frontline, and the community from risk of infection.

Lynne Drake is one of two bylaws officers who provide 24/7 coverage. She had to set up an office in her spare room and work off a tablet.  “My contact with people was by phone or email.  I couldn’t go out and make my usual calls but most people were very understanding. Unfortunately people also started walking their dogs off leads in urban areas and we had an increase in attacks on people. There was also a rise in rubbish dumping in both urban and rural areas.  This forced our contractors outside their bubbles to deal with these breaches.”

Bryce Neems the Amenities and Solid Waste Manager says, “Moving into Level 4 we had to quickly close the libraries, cemeteries, public toilets and playgrounds in the three towns and make sure there was good signage and public information available.  Then it was a case of adhering to the changing COVID-19 restrictions until we could open again.”

Earthcare continued collecting refuse and also staffed the Martinborough refuse Station to keep it open for essential services. Bryce was keenly aware of the impact of the closure of the transfer stations for general residents, especially for the rural community.  “Most appreciated the issues and were very patient”, he said.

His team has worked very hard to make a smooth transition back to Level 2 including a major cleaning programme of playgrounds and toilets.  “They had to be out and about all the time, regardless of the virus risk, and did a great job of keeping things ticking over.”

Senior Housing also falls in Bryce’s portfolio and he set up a monitoring system so residents received regular calls to make sure they were ok.

Faced with the rapid changes and uncertainty created by COVID-19, people naturally looked for regular, clear information. Communication Manager Amy Wharram was kept busy updating the public via multiple channels on what was happening with council services, but also supporting the public information management role at the Wairarapa Emergency Operations Centre. 

Information came from many directions and changed quickly, so it was important to stay up to date with authoritative sources from Government and Local Government New Zealand.  SWDC tried, where possible, to be consistent in its decisions and messaging with the other Wairarapa councils. Amy says that working from home with seven and four year old boys – the older one needing home schooling – just added to the challenge.

Lynne, Bryce and Amy all agreed that the community generally responded really well to the difficulties thrown up by the shutdown. Amy summed it up, “There was a real feeling of solidarity – us against the virus.  I’m really in awe of the way Kiwis followed the rules to get us to where we are now.  I really hope there is no going back to lockdown.”   Don’t we all?


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