Meet Louise, nominated by her colleagues in Walsall Council’s environmental health team for the leading role she’s playing in the council’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. While many of us are working at home behind a screen, Louise is doing more face to face working than ever before making sure social distancing is effective in shops throughout Walsall.
Her polite “can you please pop outside and talk to me” phrase is how she asks the owners of small local shops and grocers to have a conversation with her about how the shop can implement social distancing. Along with other members of environmental health, Louise is working in some of the worst hit COVID-19 areas―paying particular attention to high-density retail areas where there are lots of independent speciality shops.
Louise and her team were exceptionally busy during May in the run up to Eid, following Ramadan. They knew the festival would be a really busy time for local shops so the work was made a priority to help shop owners implement social distancing correctly. So far, 120 shops and businesses have had personal visits to explain how to could make social distancing work for them.
We work with shop owners to see what social distancing means for them
Louise says, “These are small shops, often family-run businesses. They’ve been busier than ever during the pandemic, due to the queuing at the larger stores and supermarkets. Many of them simply haven’t had the time to log into the government advice.
“There is lots of misinformation out there ― some think that social distancing is only meant for the bigger supermarkets. I’ve regularly found 15 or 20 people inside a shop that’s only safe for far fewer people.
And Louise continues, “We work with the owner to see what social distancing means, we advise on simple steps, practical steps they can take to help them such as how many can be in the shop at once, putting in a one way system if that’s needed, marking the floor up with tape showing where to stand, and check they are using contactless and not cash too, where possible.”
In today’s digital world, Louise has found rather more traditional methods have worked well to get over the message such as eye catching posters. These have been given out freely for shops to display and clearly show what social distancing means. The heading is in 12 languages reflecting Walsall’s diverse communities. Shop keepers seem only too pleased to get this really practical help.
Louise says, “These businesses have welcomed our visits. They value having someone who can offer specialist advice to ask questions. Many of them put up the posters while we are there. They like that they can point their customers to them and that helps them implement social distancing. As we continue this work across the borough we hope that the majority of our shops will be displaying our posters to reinforce the key social distancing messages.”
It’s been the best team work ever ― with a common purpose
Before the pandemic Louise’s role was focused around her specialism: health and safety. She was leading a workstream helping takeaway food stores to offer healthier choices and working with businesses to create healthier workplaces. What she’s really enjoying about her work at the moment is that the whole team of 10 have come together to work on the social distancing project: “It’s just been the best team working ever – we can’t drive in the same car or meet closely of course – but it feels good to have a common purpose and be making a difference in our communities. The whole team have worked so hard, we really are helping to save lives.”
We work proactively with business to try and avoid prosecution
She’s also on mission to challenge any misconceptions about environmental health too. Louise says, “Yes, we have an enforcement role and we have to take action for those that break the rules, such as pubs and hairdressers that breach the closure legislation that’s in place during the lockdown. But we only prosecute when there are no more options left and 99% of the time we are working proactively with business, offering advice and supporting them to be better.”
Personally, it’s been a challenging time for Louise and her partner, who works for the fire service. Some of his work has been really tough, he has had to assist the police with dealing with those who have died of COVID-19 in care homes and private homes. As well as them both working on the front line, they are also home educating – around the dinner table – their two boys aged 6 and 12. Family and work life is exceptionally busy these days.