The workers keeping council services running over Christmas
Posted on: Thursday 24 December 2020
While many of us are enjoying a few days off during the festive season, spare a thought for those who will be on duty during the 12 days of Christmas, helping make Christmas special for those on their own, taking care of the vulnerable, keeping our communities clean and tidy, and our roads safe to travel on.
From care home staff to caretakers and on-call highways officers to housing advisors, they all play a vital role in making sure essential Bridgend County Borough Council services continue over the festive period.
Jayne is a shift leader at one of the children's residential homes in the county borough. She said: “The lead up to Christmas is really important for us – the children have all got Advent calendars and they helped us to put decorations up.
“Usually we would be taking them to Christmas events but obviously with Covid-19, things are a little bit different this year. We have been taking them on walks locally to see the decorations and lights at other houses, while grabbing a nice hot chocolate from town to keep us all warm.
“On Christmas Eve, we usually have a pyjama party and leave out milk and mince pies for Santa and his reindeer before the children go to bed. Then, on Christmas morning, there’s present hunts and a lovely turkey dinner with all the trimmings. We try to make Christmas as special for the young people as possible.”
The Meals at Home team will be working over Christmas and New Year to deliver dinners to elderly and vulnerable people across the county borough.
Meals at Home organiser Ceri James said: “The festive period is an extremely busy time of year for us. On Christmas Eve, we double up on dinners delivered for people who don’t have any family so their carers can serve them a meal on Christmas Day. Everyone gets turkey and all of the trimmings followed by a festive pudding.”
Maggie Preece is a care assistant at Bryn y Cae residential home and will be working on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, with some time off to enjoy with her family over New Year.
She said: “It’s been a difficult year for the residents because of coronavirus and not being able to see their families but we’re trying to keep them as upbeat as possible. We’ve put decorations up and we’re holding a concert to spread some festive cheer. We get everyone included and dressed up as much as we can and sing some Christmas songs.
“On Christmas Day, they open their presents once they’re up and dressed and then they sit down for a dinner with all the trimmings. Families are able to send in cards and presents - anything we can safely wipe down is given straight away and the rest are kept for 72 hours before being passed on to make sure they’re safe.”
Jayne Jenkins is a domiciliary care worker with the Bridgestart team. She’s got Christmas Day off this year but will be working over the festive period.
She said: “We go into the homes of people who have come out of hospital to help them to regain their independence. It involves all aspects of care – supporting them with washing, dressing, helping them to make meals in the kitchen, and assisting them to move with the help of equipment. We encourage them to do as much as they can for themselves.
“It’s been tough year with coronavirus but we just get on with it because people need us.
I’m not working Christmas Day this year – I’ve worked for 12 years and this is only my second one off so I’m looking forward to spending some time with my family. I’ll be working between Christmas and New Year and it’s nice to go in and see people, especially those who are on their own, and help to bring some festive cheer for them.”
Senior social worker on the emergency duty team for children and adults Mandy is part of a team which covers Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf.
She said: “Our role is to help protect children and adults. We get calls for a variety of reasons ranging from parents who have partied too much and are no longer capable of looking after their children to people who share the care of children falling out with each other. We also get quite a lot of vulnerable residents contacting us because other facilities are closed.
“With Covid-19, we get calls involving people who have been told to self-isolate which means they are no longer able to visit and care or do the shopping for their loved ones who are alone.
Christmas can be a desperate time for some families. We always have an approved mental health professional on every shift so there’s always someone to respond.”
We all dream of the perfect Christmas but for some, the reality is very different. Helping people at what is possibly the worst time of their lives is the council’s housing team.
Shaun, the council’s senior housing solutions advisor, said: “There are a wide variety of issues that cause people to present as homeless at this time of year. You tend to see things like young people being asked to leave by their parents, an increase in domestic abuse incidents, scheduled prison releases and more. When the weather gets colder we also get a lot of extra people coming forward.”
He added: “This year has been particularly stressful, and we have provided temporary accommodation for more than 700 people due to the pandemic using additional funding from Welsh Government. While it means there are very few rough sleepers, we continue to have an intervention team provided by The Wallich and have regular meetings with partners in the third sector to ensure the needs of people are met and being supported.
“It is a very busy environment, helping people and their families during a difficult period in their lives. When it goes right, it’s really satisfying.”
On duty throughout the Christmas and New Year period, the adult mental health team receives referrals from GPs, hospitals, social workers and from members of the public.
Marny, one of the team’s approved mental health professionals, said: “Christmas is a busy time of year because there is a lot of stress. We tend to see slightly different people over the Christmas period from the rest of the year – parents who can’t afford to buy presents and are struggling to cope, for example, or lots of very lonely older people.
“For anyone who is feeling lonely or isolated, that sense can often be highlighted over Christmas. If somebody is in crisis and they need a mental health assessment and a visit, we will do that, along with a doctor. Not everyone needs to see someone, and people can also feel supported by something as simple as a chat on the phone. We refer people to the support they need, whether that’s within the wider community or if it requires more specialist help.”
The festive season is the busiest time for refuse collectors and recycling workers as they visit around 1,600 homes a day and shift hundreds of tonnes of waste.
Jan Jones, who is a recycling and refuse lorry driver for Kier in Bridgend county borough, said: “The Christmas period is usually absolutely mad - due to the increased volume of waste, an additional team is sent out to help us on the round. Depending on which vehicle I’m driving, I’ll get out and help with collecting the waste.
“The whole year has been really busy – with everyone being at home they have seen what we do and they’ve been really grateful for the fact we have worked all the way through the pandemic. Some were even clapping as we came down the street and there was one little girl who came out every week and waved.”
It’s also a busy time for the council’s cleaner streets team who empty public bins across the county borough, litter pick and clear away fly-tipping, as well as clearing leaves from culverts and using a mechanical sweeper to clean streets.
Robert Davies, who is part of a 37-strong team working this Christmas, said: “Due to the increase in footfall in town centres, there’s obviously a lot more rubbish in the bins and there’s often, unfortunately, more fly-tipping. It’s a busy time, I enjoy it. There’s been a lot of change this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve had to adapt the way we work and we’ve been split into smaller teams.”
Meanwhile helping to keep traffic moving on Bridgend county borough’s 790km of roads is highways superintendent Rafael Combarro.
He said: “I’m a member of the on-call winter weather team and that work doesn’t stop over the festive period. I’ll be on call for Christmas Day in case there are any problems.
“We carry out maintenance across the highways network, including roadworks and drainage, and deal with emergencies such as flooding or road traffic accidents. The team will also be keeping an eye on the weather forecast – if temperatures look like they’re going to drop or snow is forecast, we’ll send out a team to grit the roads, and if flooding or storms are expected, we’ll be on standby to tend to any issues caused.”
Kevyn Sims, who has worked for the council for nearly 20 years, is one of two caretakers based at the Civic Offices on Angel Street. He makes sure the building is ready to open before staff arrive in the morning and closes up in the evening, as well as keeping an eye on parking and other issues around the building.
He said: “Usually there's a buzz about the office in the run up to Christmas - it's a happy time with trees and decorations about the place but this year it's very different. The team used to be on call but now we finish on Christmas Eve and have a break on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day but we’re working the rest of the time.”
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of those council staff who will be busy working over the festive period to keep services running, as well as those in the emergency services and NHS who will give up time with family and friends to serve their communities. I would also like to say thank you for all of your efforts during a really tough year.
To all staff and residents in Bridgend county borough, I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2021.Council leader Huw David