Meet Olivia Cooper. “Exhausted. Intense. Full on.” These are the words Olivia uses to describe the first weeks of lockdown, before adding, “Incredible. Amazing. A privilege.” It’s certainly been a privilege to hear her story.
Olivia’s day job – pre becoming a PPE buyer and supplier in the pandemic – was to make sure Warwickshire County Council gets ‘value’ from its contracts and spend with others – partners, suppliers and other organisations; not just value for money but value for the customer. “I’m here for the elderly person without a voice. I want to be that voice,” she says.
She uses the example of the community equipment store that provides aids to enable people to stay at home, like bed rails and walking frames; her team’s role is to check that the organisation that runs it is providing the right service for the elderly people and many others that use the service. In another example Olivia’s team secures the contracts at the waste and recycling sites – making sure that the waste and materials people bring to the sites for recycling then do actually get taken to the various businesses and locations to be recycled – all services provided by a third party.
The council needed to act quickly and take control – and just do it
It was through Olivia’s role checking the quality of day care centres and care homes that the messages about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) started to come through as an issue of concern. Olivia talked to her boss – his reaction was supportive – he agreed the council needed to act and take control, a ‘just do it’ attitude. Olivia says, “overnight we went from not having anything to do with PPE, it just wasn’t in our remit, then we had to get hold of it, work out who needs it, tell people about it and get it to them. We basically set up a mini Amazon in three days.”
The procurement team hit the phones and started the task to track down PPE. In the meantime a call out went out across the council and to the recently closed dentists and schools to donate their PPE for use across Warwickshire. Gathering in supplies that weren’t being used really helped in the first two weeks. The IT team donated the masks they wear for dusty computer work, schools donated eye goggles from science labs.
We got PPE to a guest house homing the homeless in just four hours
As her hero nomination says, “Olivia has been the full time PPE manager and her coordination and management efforts have meant that we have stayed ahead of demand for supplies of PPE in Warwickshire, delivering vital equipment to hospitals and care settings as soon as they are running low on any supplies.”
Over fifty people from across the council were involved in the operation that was set up in mid March. Roles include project management and logistics – scheduling the driving to get it to people seven days a week. They set up website and dedicated email address so that people could order PPE for care homes, residential special schools, funeral services, district councils and a range of others who needed it. Stratford District Council asked for PPE for a guest house that was being used to provide a temporary home for homeless people during lockdown – PPE was shipped in just four hours.
Olivia explained, “It’s colleagues from across the Council who’ve made this operation possible. Everyone brought their transferrable skills and applied them to this unique operation with creativity and drive. It is such privilege to work alongside them and make a big difference to the people of Warwickshire.”
Over 1.7million items of PPE have been distributed
Even through the demands for PPE over the weeks of the pandemic has grown significantly Olivia and the team have managed to keep up with demands. As Olivia says, “We got down to our last 500 masks before we found another supply – we really didn’t want to be having to make tough decisions about who would get it.” Over 1.7million items of PPE have been distributed to organisations across Warwickshire.
Olivia describes herself as ridiculously committed to the public sector. When she told her Cambridge University peers, after she graduated, that she was accepting a role with a Council they asked ‘are you mad’? She thinks perceptions are changing, and she’d certainly be a great front woman for a campaign to get the next generation excited about working in councils. “We want people who are amazing – because you can do amazing things”, quite right Olivia.
Pace is what the pandemic has taught us
She thinks local government has really stepped up at this time. “Pace is what the pandemic has taught us. Normally it would take many months and many committee reports to get the sort of PPE operation we got off the ground in a matter of days. It shows what we can do,” she says.
She was all set to be a Civil Engineer after her degree from Cambridge, until she realised she wanted to work with people. Starting in the NHS and councils she then spent ten years in the charity sector before coming to Warwickshire County Council three years ago.
When asked her advice to others, she says: “Go and temp, it’s a great way to learn while you are working out what you want to do and be.” She doesn’t believe in life plans, but she does believe in a try and see approach.
What does Olivia do to relax? She makes face coverings for friends and family! “I love to sew, I crochet and do embroidery – I find crafting really quite mindful. Walks with my dogs too. I should mention my husband Simon too. During the stupidly long days he’s kept me fed and watered. He’s made me endless cups of tea to keep me going – although it’s the work that keeps me energised.”