The City of Whittlesea is hoping festivals and events will resume across the municipality in early 2021. Pictured is performers ‘Born in a Taxi,’ who were set to perform at Whittlesea Community Festival earlier this year.

By Colin MacGillivray

CITY of Whittlesea officials are confident the region is primed to bounce back strongly from the harshest effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 as an unprecedented year draws to a close.

Council chief executive Craig Lloyd said the municipality had weathered the worst of the pandemic’s effects in 2020 and was now entering a recovery phase.

He said despite no new cases of COVID-19 being recorded in Victoria for more than a month, testing rates within the city remained high, showing residents were remaining vigilant about the virus.

Mr Lloyd said libraries, animal welfare facilities, community activity centres, neighbourhood houses and sports pavilions had all reopened during November as the city kept pace with lifting State Government restrictions.

“We were also able to resume services including social support and respite for carer groups, an elite golf program, pest animal and pest plant inspections, inspections of vacant blocks for the fire danger period, and face-to-face maternal and child health appointments increased,” he said.

However, Mr Lloyd noted that some businesses had shut their doors permanently during the pandemic. He said council was committed to supporting businesses across the municipality during the recovery phase of the pandemic.

“In November, 21 food or health and beauty premises closed permanently,” he said.

“It is encouraging, though, to see new businesses opening in our municipality and we wish them every success.

“Council is working to provide local business support in many ways. We’re doing that by providing outdoor dining infrastructure and continuing to waive footpath trading permits.

“A second four-week campaign promoting local businesses has been relaunched under the banner of Shop Local for Christmas to encourage support for local businesses in the lead-up to Christmas.

“So far we’ve received 177 applications under our hardship policy, and to date 136 have been approved.

“In terms of recovery, we’ve funded 14 applications under the Reconnection Grant Program totalling $49,594. We’ll be launching a second round in March.

“We’ve continued to provide financial support and in-kind support to non-local-government organisations from our $500,000 Emergency Relief Fund. Since April, 20 local organisations have received support under that fund totalling $331,000.

“We’ve received two requests totalling $10,250 that will be going towards supporting Christmas hampers, particularly for vulnerable local families.”

Mr Lloyd said many businesses and organisations, including the City of Whittlesea itself, were on track for up to 50 per cent of staff to return to on-site working on January 11, in line with the State Government’s COVIDSafe Summer plan.

He said council had also overhauled its summer program of community events.

“The City of Whittlesea is continuing to develop new projects that will help us reconnect and recover from the impacts of the pandemic through arts, culture and creativity,” he said.

“The annual City of Whittlesea Christmas carols event [was] reimagined this year and delivered online via social media platforms and the Whittlesea Arts website on Friday, December 11.

“The summer series of events has also been adapted to meet ongoing changes to restrictions. The season will kick off with a series of five free family entertainment and film nights throughout the municipality in January featuring live music, circus performers, food trucks and a feature film on a large outdoor cinema screen.

“Density limits have increased, which means more opportunity for local food businesses.”

Council chair administrator Lydia Wilson paid tribute to the efforts of the Whittlesea community during the pandemic.

“I’d like to note the enormous work that has been put in by our staff, emergency services, healthcare workers and of course our communities and businesses to get to the point that we are at now, which is quite exciting because we are moving into the recovery phase,” she said.

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