It's our time to share our fortune and 'do our bit' as we start to re-open

Cllr Ian Barlow talks about Sidmouth Town Council's efforts over the past year

Cllr Ian Barlow talks about Sidmouth Town Council's efforts over the past year - Credit: Alex Walton

Chair of Sidmouth Town Council, cllr Ian Barlow, salutes Sidmouth's community spirit and gives and update on the council's work over the past year.

To say that the last year has been challenging would be an understatement for us all. No one has been unaffected in some way by the pandemic, some far more than others.
I have been overwhelmed and overjoyed by the way our helpful caring community spirit has shone through right from the start. From the businesses supplying food and deliveries, community groups supplying support and logistics and individuals who helped neighbours and friends who had to self-isolate and others less fortunate. 
I also want to put on record mine and the town council’s thanks to our hardworking and valued local doctors, nurses, critical care and surgery reception staff who have been working so very hard on our behalf. I think we already knew we were lucky living where we do but this reminded me that it's not just the physical place but the community, that makes it simply the best!
I was asked to write about my views on the reopening of shops and hospitality in the coming weeks and very simply I cannot wait for both to happen. Our economy relies on tourism and without it our town would not be the vibrant place it is. Tourists bring in a huge amount of money that helps all members of our community prosper, even if they don’t benefit from it directly. Covid-19  has affected the whole world and I know that locally we have had our own struggles, challenges and heartache but many others have had to endure far worse while stuck in a city with less green spaces or no seaside to enjoy.
Personally, I believe it's our time to happily share our fortune and 'do our bit' for a few months and be as welcoming as possible to our visitors (while relieving them of some of their money of course!). So I would ask us all to be welcoming, patient, polite and remember and realise that not everyone is as lucky as us as to where they live. Above all we must continue to stay safe by washing our hands, wearing a mask, keeping as much distance as possible and getting fresh air whenever possible. By doing these simple things we can all really help our local economy and community.
So what have we been up to at the council? Well, working with Cllr Stuart Hughes and Devon County Council and reflecting on the new Covid rules for providing extra room for social distancing, we were able to quickly implement a pedestrian priority area in the centre of town that I think has been proved to be a real benefit to the visitors, locals and businesses. We are at present looking to improve this and make it permanent going forward.
In the last year, your local town council has also been quietly getting on with more  everyday, non-covid related business on your behalf. We have opened one of the best skateparks in Devon, and worked with volunteer organisations to improve many areas of our community, such as: Sid Valley HELP, Sidmouth in Bloom, Sid Valley Food Bank, Sid Vale Association, Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce and the Folk Festival while continuing to work with our local hotels, to name but a few. We have been helped and supported very actively by our new MP Simon Jupp which has been particularly useful with Simon living in the town!
Although it's not “our job”, we have cut verges and assisted our larger councils to keep our town clean and as beautiful as possible. We have provided youth support via our contractor Young Devon and a special mental health professional. We have launched a new branding and tourist focused website plus an online booking system to attract people to our town to assist our economy and a new community-focused council website to better deliver trusted news and information locally. We have built and opened new toilets at the western end of the esplanade at The Arches to provide facilities to locals and visitors using that end of the beach. We have helped maintain and provide the 70-plus miles of paths and walkways available locally with our amazing Parish Paths P3 Group. We have continued to provide an information centre at The Ham to assist visitors and locals with information and signposting. We have provided extra floral displays throughout the town all year on top of our support for Sidmouth in Bloom’s stunning displays. We have also continued to provide the Christmas lights to give a great atmosphere at Christmas working with the Chamber of Commerce to help the Sidmouth’s traders entice visitors and locals to spend their money in our town, benefiting us all.
We unfortunately had to cancel the Air Show and Red Arrows display last year but we hope it will happen this year. We support the Folk Festival which again had to move its normal live performances online in 2020, however fingers crossed for this year!
Going forward, we are working on providing a new extended car park at the Knowle with electric charging points. The new amphitheatre being built as part of a surface drainage scheme by Devon County Council will hopefully be completed this summer ready for use in spring 2022 which will be another huge asset for our town. We are actively involved in the ongoing marketing of our town as a high end, quality holiday resort, helping our local economy and making sure we remain the premier quality town on the south Devon coast. For our local young people, we are starting off on a five year plan to completely rebuild our Youth Centre building as we believe they deserve the best we can achieve for them now. We are investing in new and improved play parks throughout the town, again to give our younger community the best facilities we can.
I would like to thank my fellow councillors and the staff for all their hard work this last year. We are not perfect and we are always trying to improve the offer we give but you should, I believe, be proud of the facilities and environment that we have helped to provide that are the envy of many other larger towns.

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