The Committee was provided with a comprehensive update on the measures being implemented by the Council and its multiagency partners to support the people of Belfast over the winter period, specifically in terms of emergency planning and Age-friendly Belfast.
The Members noted that all local community resilience groups in Belfast had re-engaged with residents over the summer months to ensure that their contacts details had been updated and that the existing community emergency plans had been refreshed. This had also included awareness raising within the communities regarding existing resources, including sandbag containers and equipment to help assist during adverse weather, particularly during incidents of flash flooding.
The Members were advised that sandbag containers would continue to be replenished by multiagency partners including NIW, DfI Roads and DfI Rivers in preparation for the winter period. The sandbag containers had combination locks to improve the speed of access by Council staff and/or community volunteers when required. The locations of the sandbag containers were available on the Council’s website, available here
DfI Roads were currently restocking the community grit boxes in preparation for winter. The Committee was reminded that there was an ongoing agreement between DfI Roads and the Council, permitting Council resources to be used to treat predefined areas when a prolonged cold period was expected or experienced. The agreed areas included arterial routes into the city and streets in and around the city centre.
The Members were also reminded of a previous agreement regarding the provision of salt for the Members’ use in communities during prolonged severe winter weather, where small quantities of salt would be made available in Council owned premises. Existing stocks of salt (25kg bags) would be made available at the appropriate Council community/leisure centres or other Council sites. In addition, higher elevated residential areas would also be prioritised.
In terms of information and outreach, the Committee was advised that links were in place with Age-friendly Belfast’s multiagency group and homeless support groups to raise awareness when weather warnings were issued.
The Committee was advised that a briefing paper, ‘Elected Member Information on Major Emergencies’ would be emailed to all the Members, this would include a hotline number for Members’ use during an emergency. They were also advised that winter emergency information was available on the Council website, which also contained a link to the NI Direct page available here. Corporate Communications also had specific winter advice pages, which would be highlighted on the website and via the Council’s social media channels as required.
In terms of Age-friendly Belfast, it hosted two interagency winter planning meetings in August and November each year, where Partners from community, voluntary and statutory organisations shared their plans for the winter, raised any issues of concern and updated their contacts for the communication of information in extreme weather.
The following key projects to support older people over the winter were then highlighted:
· National Energy Action (NEA) were co-ordinating winter warmth packs provided by the Public Health Agency for Belfast. Referrals could be made for those at risk of fuel poverty, a particular concern this year with rising energy costs by calling National Energy Action on 028 9023009909;
· Local Community and Voluntary groups were hosting walks and other small-scale face-to-face activities with older people during Autumn/Winter 2021. The ongoing Age-friendly activities also provided a mix of virtual and in-person activities to help tackle loneliness and isolation. Check-in schemes such as the Good Morning scheme and local phone befriending would continue to provide important support for older people in the winter period; and
· Age-friendly Belfast and the Belfast PCSP had distributed 15000 ‘safe seniors’ packs across Belfast in October via community centres and community voluntary organisations. This contained information on keeping well at home, scams, staying safe and preparedness for emergencies. The Affordable Warmth Scheme (AWS) continued to operate as normal and referrals could be made via the Affordable Warmth Coordinator.
The Committee noted and welcomed the update and agreed to forward any suggestions/additional improvement measures via email directly to the Director of City Services.