Ottery's amazing community has pulled together during pandemic

Ottery Community Volunteers was set up in 2020 in response to the Covid crisis

Ottery Community Volunteers was set up in 2020 in response to the Covid crisis - Credit: Terry Ife

In her first column for the Herald, Cllr Vicky Johns discusses how Ottery St Mary has progressed since her time as councillor and mayor of the town.

I was elected to Ottery St Mary Town Council and East Devon District Council in May 2019 and in June 2020 I had the honour of being made the first female mayor of the parish. 

Since joining the council I have found that local authorities operate in many different ways at many different levels. They all have certain things in common but there is often a surprisingly large variation in their approach. Sometimes this can be frustrating when all you want is to make things better and get things done but learning to work with the system is part of the role. Things have changed a great deal over the last decade and I am painfully aware that due to Government cutbacks and reductions in funding many of the things we used to take for granted have become a real challenge to maintain. Often we are forced to prioritise services and investments which means that sometimes not everything can be done as soon as we might like, if at all. That is why we have to be ever more determined and committed to finding solutions and ways to help our communities even in the face of adversity.

Since I joined Ottery St Mary Town Council my fellow councillors and I have been slowly working hard to get many different projects off the ground. Local authorities tend to move slowly and it takes time to get things going but we feel that good progress is being made. Last year we planted a community orchard at the Land of Canaan and we are really pleased to see the trees looking fabulous. There are other stages to this project which we hope to deliver soon. We are in the process of upgrading the Winters Lane play park and working with EDDC to further secure section 106 monies owed to us in order to start work on various significant projects aimed at improving services, sports, leisure and other opportunities for the community.

In early 2020 we were all suddenly facing the reality of an unprecedented global pandemic in the form of Covid19. Unavoidably this has dramatically slowed progress in many areas due to the businesses and local authorities being almost entirely shut down in an official capacity. All of us together have had the constant worry of infection and dealing with the uncertainty of an ever-shifting political and economic landscape. Many people have had to be isolated for long periods of time, businesses have been closed down and life as we know it changed radically, almost overnight.

Along with some truly amazing people in our community, I am proud to have been one of three individuals that set up the Ottery Community Volunteers. Stewart Lucas, Dean Stewart and I set up this volunteer organisation almost overnight in order to help our parish through this crisis. It would not have been possible if it were not for the astonishing and humbling efforts of local people and their determination to give freely of their time in order to help others. You all know who you are and thank you! Everyone worked tirelessly to help deliver shopping, run errands and ensure that those in need or trapped in isolation still had access to food, essentials and prescription medicines. Our local chemists performed an amazing job and we are proud to have helped them cope under such pressure. I would also like to thank Dr David Strain for all of his advice and support.

During the pandemic we have also set up the OSC Community Larder. This has operated as a free-to-all service providing food, essentials and even a few luxuries to those in need. The larder works on the principle of preventing food waste and is not means tested. The larder helps reduce the amount of food thrown away and sent to landfill. By working with supermarkets and other producers we have been able to put that food to good use helping individuals and families during this difficult time. Again we have been overwhelmed by the generosity of local volunteers who have staffed this project and the various businesses and organisations that have stepped up to help. We would also like to thank the Institute particularly for allowing us to use their rooms.