Medway in a zombie apocalypse

In which Caitlin Webb ponders how things might go for the residents of Medway in an even more severe outbreak..

Day one. Most of us would shrug off the warnings and think “meh, this is just the flu.” “I survived foot and mouth, bird flu AND I grew up in Chatham, I can live through this”. We will keep calm and carry on and panic buy all the toilet rolls. 

The rest will completely panic. Raid the supermarkets and barricade ourselves in our homes and plan to ride it out with pasta, rice and chickpeas. 

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Voice of the Leader: July

Once a month we offer a platform to the leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition. Today, we have the latest column from Cllr Alan Jarrett, Conservative Leader of Medway Council.

Alan Jarrett

THANK YOU TO OUR WONDERFUL NHS STAFF, OUR SOCIAL WORKERS, AND ALL OTHER KEY WORKERS for keeping us safe during a time of an unprecedented world-wide pandemic. 

As I write this column on 1st July it is revealing to reflect on the last few weeks, and consider some of what has been happening. Crucially to consider how people have been reacting to the ongoing understandably cautionary tone coming from government as we all seek to contain the spread of infection. 

In the main it seems as though most people have behaved responsible, thinking of their own health, and mindful of the health of others by following government guidance on social distancing in particular and also personal hygiene. There have sadly been exceptions, which I will come on to later.

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How to protect your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic

In which Lauren Heritage ponders the impact the current situation can have on our mental health and what we can do to help ourselves..

Silhouette Of Person Standing By The Door

Coronavirus, Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, The Rona..

It’s all we hear about at the moment. Anyone remember Brexit?

It is understandably a stressful time for all. With most of us having never experienced a situation like this in our lives, it can all feel very out of control and anxiety inducing. Whilst some may be enjoying being in lockdown and/or working from home, others are finding it a real struggle. Let’s also not forget our health and key workers out keeping the country going and fighting Covid-19 who are also reporting a significant impact on their mental health.

What are the biggest stressors at this time and what can I do to help?

Social 

We are, by nature, sociable creatures. Even if you don’t enjoy face to face interaction, most enjoy interacting with others in one way or another. It’s been weeks and months since many have physically been in the company of family and friends. You might have a closer relationship with the security guard at the supermarket than your own family at this point. Shout out to Tony at Walderslade Morrisons!

If family and friends are a source of happiness and support, this can feel like you’ve lost a lifeline.

For others, they may have difficult family relationships and being forced to be in lockdown can feel incredibly stressful. Unfortunately, lockdown has also seen a rise in domestic violence. Click here to see how you can seek help if you find yourself in this situation.

For those of you missing family and friends, video chatting has become the new ‘going down the pub’ or ‘popping round for a cup of tea’. OK, it’s not quite the same as being face to face, but at least helps you to see your loved ones and take part in things like virtual pub quizzes, games and general chit chat. Houseparty, Whatsapp and Zoom are popular (other apps are available). Some people are even getting into roleplay and conducting virtual afternoon teas and pub nights whereby each person has a drink* going or some nice sandwiches and cakes to make it feel more ‘real’.

*Disclaimer: please drink responsibly.

If familial difficulties are making relationships difficult, here are a few tips you might like to try:

  • If space allows, everyone has their own area of the house where they can have their own ‘me time’ and can be left alone or can escape to if tempers rise.
  • This website has some really excellent resources to help aid communication and conflict resolution. I use these all the time in my working and ‘real’ life and think they really make a difference.

Self-Care

Self care isn’t just about personal hygiene and getting dressed. Hands up if you’ve worn jeans at any point since lockdown begun? Anyone? No?

It’s also about attending to the holistic self and wellbeing. We all know we are allowed our government mandated daily exercise and it’s important we use it. Whether it’s a slow walk, attending to the garden, a bike ride with the kids or running many miles; exercise has huge benefits to mental and physical health. Research shows even just being out in fresh air or having a change of environment has a significant impact on mood and stress as well as physical stuff like blood pressure and heart health.

Keeping your brain busy is important. We have a tendency to go to darker places when we have little to do. There is a reason why long term solitary confinement can be considered torture. You don’t have to do anything extravagant or Nobel Prize worthy. It can be as simple as a jigsaw (if you can buy one anywhere at the moment), reading a book, doing a crossword, listening to music or binging that show you’ve been meaning to watch for ages but have never found the time. These easy things can also be used as redirection when you feel yourself getting worked up. The brain finds it very difficult to overthink and do an activity that requires logical thinking at the same time, so if you really throw yourself into whatever task it is, it should reduce your stress.

I think it’s important to have a bit of a reality check here. We all tend to be slaves to social media and it can be very easy to believe that everyone is mastering a new skill, getting in shape or making their house look like something out of a magazine. If you’re doing those things, fine. But it’s also absolutely fine if you aren’t. Getting through this is enough. And remember, social media shows only the best snippets of someone’s life. There is a phrase I really like which is ‘don’t judge your behind the scenes on someone else’s highlights reel’.

You do you, judgement free.

The News

Everyday we get the headlines of the amount of people who have sadly lost their lives, the number of new infections and heartbreaking stories of families having their lives ripped apart. If you’re not careful it can become an obsession as you try to seek out the latest information. It also can lead to extreme health anxiety where you think the slightest sniffle means it’s finally got you. We tend to fall victims to something called ‘confirmation bias’ which is when we look for evidence that supports our beliefs/fears and discard anything that doesn’t. This can really feed into anxiety.

It’s therefore important that we ‘change the record’. Make a conscious effort to seek out the positives or just take a break from the news altogether. If you read a negative story, make sure you then read a positive one after. If you feel overwhelmed with the number of deaths, make sure to read about the survivors, because the reality is there are many. Many more people who survive this than don’t make it. By doing this, you start to balance your anxious thoughts and helps gain perspective.

And Finally..

I am getting asked a lot what resources I can recommend to help people get through this time. Below are a list of just some of the ones I have either looked at and really rate or use on a regular basis and think are really helpful.

More general mental health:

I absolutely love these websites. It has many easy to understand tools for most things mental health and emotional wellbeing. I use these professionally and personally.

https://www.therapistaid.com/

https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/Looking-After-Yourself

Coronavirus specific:

I really liked this article by the BBC.

This is a brilliant piece of support from The Wellness Society

Stay safe out there, everyone.

Lauren Heritage is a mental health professional born and raised in Medway. She wants Medway to be the best it can be and is growing more exasperated by the day with politics. She likes to travel, enjoys good food, is a scuba diver, and a wannabe pilot.

Elections on lockdown

In which Alan Collins from Medway Elects ponders the consequences of all 2020 elections being postponed..

If you cast your minds back to November, when the biggest crisis the country was facing was the threat of a no-deal Brexit and politicians and activists were busily campaigning in the third general election in four years, I signed off my predictions for those elections with a flippant comment about 2020’s Police and Crime Commissioner election.

Whilst it was written tongue-in-cheek to appear as though I was hoping for a break from elections, as someone who geeks out on electoral data, any vote is a source of unashamed joy. But of course, back in November, no one could have predicted that our lives would change so much in so little time, as they have by COVID-19.

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Voice of the Opposition: June

Once a month we will be offering the Leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition the opportunity to talk unedited about.. well, Medway politics. Today we hear from Vince Maple, leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition on Medway Council.


This is the third Political Medway column since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK – we continue to see hundreds of individuals pass away every day.  We must never forget that behind those huge numbers are personal stories, families and friends mourning in challenging circumstances with social distancing.

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Lockdown diaries

In which Vicki Sigston shares her experiences of trying to maintain family order in this strange new world..

text

As I write this my family are on Day 51 of lockdown.
Day 51 of not being able to spend time, in person, with friends and family.
Day 51 of work looking very different as I learn to use Zoom, WhatsApp groups and juggle family life with working from home.
Day 51 of clubs, sports and hobbies usually done away from home being cancelled.

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No to No Child Left Behind

In which Caitlin Webb considers why our three Medway MPs voted to stop unaccompanied child refugees being reunited with their families..

gray concrete wall beside grass

Any reasonable citizen would hope their representative on an almost £80k salary would vouch for some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

Yet this was put into question for those in Medway in January as their MPs voted against continuing to let unaccompanied child refugees be reunited with their families in the UK.

Rehman Chisti, Tracy Crouch and Kelly Tolhurst all swallowed the Conservative party line voting against an amendment of the Brexit Bill, which would have kept the EU protections so children can continue to come to the UK for safety.

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Cuts have consequences

In which Michael Lynch investigates the impact of child poverty on our local communities..

Medway is a brilliant place to be educated, live, and work. Medway is one of the many areas that has suffered the devastating welfare reforms brought in from central government. 30% of Medway children are living in poverty, higher than the national average, which is appalling. The increase in child poverty in Medway and the nation has a direct link to the welfare reforms and cuts that Medway and many other areas have suffered. Thousands of children across Kent are living in poverty. 

The government must respond with a credible and urgent response to child poverty in Medway and the wider region. Medway is one of the worst-hit regions in Kent. In Medway the worst ward for child poverty is Gillingham North, where 2916 children are affected by poverty, a shocking statistic. The statistic below posted by KentLive shows that 30% of all children in Medway are affected by poverty, the 4th highest in Kent. 

Medway Council must act to solve this crisis that Medway faces. Six out of the ten highest child poverty wards in Kent are in Medway. With the local council failing to act and deal with child poverty in Medway, my local area has seen a continuous and horrendous rise in child poverty. 

The UK’s leading child poverty coalition is calling for the government to outline ambitious child poverty-reduction strategies as new data shows that child poverty is becoming the new normal in many parts in Britain, which is shameful. The data, published by the End Child Poverty coalition, highlights how worrying levels vary across Kent and the nation. 

The government need to restore the link between benefits (including housing support) and inflation, and then making up for the loss in the real value in children’s benefits as a result of the four year freeze and previous sub-inflation increases in benefit rates. The government needs to end the two-child limit on child allowances in tax credits and universal credit. The government need to reform the Universal Credit system which has plunged millions of families and children into poverty in the UK. The government need to reverse the cuts and investing in children’s services such as mental health, education, childcare, and social care. 

There are around four million children growing up in poverty, which isn’t good enough. The poverty rates have risen year after year for every type of working family – lone-parent or couple families, families with full and part-time employment. The figures are stark! 

In 2017, four in ten children were in temporary accommodation, around 50,000 children. 

The temporary accommodation that thousands of children find themselves in is regularly substandard. Frequently the accommodation is a B&B where often the bathrooms are shared and there is nowhere to cook. Places where vulnerable families can be living in the same corridor. Office block conversions into individual flats that many families live and sleep, the size of a parking space. Even converted shipping containers – cramped and airless, hot in the summer, freezing in the winter. It always seems to be disabled and vulnerable people that of lower priority. Families are disgustingly living in theses horrendous conditions for years. Our housing system needs to be urgently reformed. Child poverty should be a moral endeavour for every government regardless of its political persuasion. I’m afraid to say our government is failing us on this. 

A million children – around four in every school class – need help with mental health problems. Over 50,000 children aren’t getting any kind of education, while nearly 30,000 are in violent gangs. Many more children are growing up at risk, due to family circumstances. These are young carers; kids living in households where the adults are involved in substance drug abuse, mentally ill, or violent. These children bear the brunt of the cuts in public spending and services rationing.

I’ve heard more from politicians about: HS2, tax cuts, and of course Brexit, more than about the vital issue of child poverty. Child poverty has been overlooked too long by politicians and the government – enough is enough! We need to see change to Universal Credit; we need more affordable housing, and vulnerable families are not having to live in shipping containers and converted office blocks. 

I am calling on Medway Council and central government to prioritise child poverty and tackle it head-on. The welfare reforms and cuts introduced by the government have had a detrimental impact on the most vulnerable children and families in Medway. The government need to take urgent action and prioritise such an important issue in my local community. Child poverty has been brushed under the carpet for too long now, something needs to change! Medway is one of the many towns that have a heavy percentage of child poverty, this has to stop! The failure of central government and councils have led to millions of children and families plunged into poverty, and the government and council need to take responsibility and rectify this urgent situation that Medway and the nation face. 

Michael Lynch is a young Labour activist. He has lived in Medway all my life, and believes it’s a great place to live, work. and for education. He is a member of the Medway Youth Council, and is running to be the communities lead in their upcoming elections.

Voice of the Leader: May

Once a month we offer a platform to the leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition. Today, we have the latest column from Cllr Alan Jarrett, Conservative Leader of Medway Council.

Alan Jarrett

THANK YOU TO OUR WONDERFUL NHS STAFF, OUR SOCIAL WORKERS, AND ALL OTHER KEY WORKERS, who put others before themselves! THANK YOU TO OUR WASTE TEAMS AT MEDWAY NORSE FOR KEEPING MEDWAY CLEAN AND HYGIENIC.

So, the coronavirus pandemic moves on. The number of daily deaths has fortunately decreased, which is absolutely no comfort for family and friends of those who have tragically passed on.

At least there is a degree of clarity in the reported numbers, as when we were running at death rates approaching 1,000 a day there was a feeling that these were merely the deaths recorded in hospital. Now the numbers are being reported as all encompassing.

There are of course time-lags in reporting. It is no coincidence that reported numbers fall each weekend, only to climb again once we get into the following week.

Despite the ongoing crisis there has been some very limited relaxation, with the message of STAY AT HOME being modified to STAY ALERT. Some of the territorial restrictions have been lifted, whilst there has been more latitude shown for those engaged in recreation and sport. Team activities are of course still very much in lockdown although we are hoping for better news after 1st June.

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