Telling Covid as it is in rural Shropshire

Last March, we didn’t know what we were getting in to. We just knew we had to get in. Up to our knees. Up to our necks. At times overwhelmed.

The Lib Dems are in opposition in Shropshire so we could not be decision makers. Our duty in a Lib Dem stronghold was to tell the town and its hinterland – an audience of more than 25,000 – what was happening. Tell Covid it as it is.

We have lived with a tension. Criticising one of the slowest local rollouts of vaccination in the country. Seeking expert advice from the vaccination frontline to ensure our constituents know what the game is and can make informed personal decisions.

We live in a deeply rural area. That has protected us from some of the worst of the ravages of Covid-19. It has not protected us from the impossibly complex and ineffective actions of our health authorities. Or from the smokescreen from our local Tory MPs who made every excuse for the lengthening delays in vaccination but who turned out for every photo opportunity. The endless excuses from the Clinical Commissioning Group.

We knew that the battle against Covid-19 had to be a whole town effort. That meant that when something was working, councillors did not need to be involved. When things were broken, councillors must be involved.

We dropped our political insignia on Covid work.

Pulling Together Ludlow, a Covid-19 support group set up at a moment’s notice, needed no help from us. Andy chairs the town centre recovery group but the driving force for recovery comes from our independent traders and talented artists.

We didn’t know where we were going at the beginning of this. We did not know we would publish more than 120 blog posts, get 200,000 page views, and send out around 50 email newsletters.

Communicating Covid-19 has not been easy. We meet Shropshire’s Director of Public Health and local GPs regularly but too often come away with the message we don’t know yet.

We have had to troubleshoot. Even issue pleas for calm as tensions flared as our town struggled to agree on how to tackle Covid. None of this can ever be known to the public.

Our inboxes and GP receptionists have inevitably been overwhelmed with questions. To reduce pressure, we appointed an expert panel of two GPs and the Director of Public Health to work on a vaccination guide. Around 100 people sent in questions and we got them answered.

The ramp up of vaccination over the last two weeks locally has been impressive, if belated. We have worked to get bus diversions, free shuttle buses, taxi fleets and free parking.

The focus of our revised vaccination guide will change from the who, when, where of vaccination to tacking misinformation and doubts. We have a small Muslim community. The local Iman will contribute a reassurance that there are no vaccination issues under the Islamic faith.

Ludlow has had one of the lowest Covid-19 infection rates in the country. We don’t claim credit for that. But we have helped form the approach our town has taken to coronavirus. A town that is cautious but not scared out of its wits.

We have demonstrated that the Lib Dem focus on locality makes a vital contribution during a prolonged pandemic, just as that focus is vital every week of the year in normal times.

Our town’s community is stronger having pulled together at record speed to tackle the health emergency. That is a permanent legacy.

* Andy Boddington and Tracey Huffer are Shropshire Councillors for Ludlow North and Ludlow East