'Power of the high vis jacket' - Out with town's Covid watchdogs
- Credit: Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Copyright: Archant 2021
Whether popping out for essentials or getting your daily exercise, people in South Norfolk are becoming accustomed to the “reassuring presence” of Covid Support Advisors.
At 9am on Friday morning, January 22, the team from Broadland and South Norfolk Council met in Harleston to start their day's work assisting the community with any Covid-related questions or problems.
Wearing their distinctive high visibility jackets, these individuals are becoming a regular sight in towns and villages across the county, supporting businesses to enforce rules and acting as a gentle reminder to those out and about.
Despite a lack of shoppers in Harleston on Friday, Kerry Blackett, a Covid Support Adviser (CSA) who is part of the track and trace team, said it was the busiest she had seen the town since the third national lockdown was announced.
Ms Blackett said: “We are here to advise and support and information is available from the help hub.
“Our job is about making sure everyone is happy, especially business owners . We ask if there is anything we could do to support them.
“We visit communities across Broadland and South Norfolk and everywhere has been good. It has been pretty quiet.
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“I think everybody is pretty much understanding now that they need to follow the rules. They know the importance of this last push.”
Walking through the town centre, the advisers are on hand to answer questions from members of the public and have become a regular face among business owners.
CSA Gareth Hill said: “People know you’re there to help and support the community. The majority of say it is good to see us out.
“The most common thing I have seen is people still coming together to do shopping or in the same car when they maybe shouldn’t be.
“But apart from that everyone is wearing masks in shops and our presence definitely helps.”
Mike Chappell, owner of the Apiary Harleston, was visited by the team. He said: “They really are doing a great job. They are always smiling, always friendly, always ready to explain which is great.
“It is a positive thing. But we are still finding that some people don’t quite understand the rules.
"Sometimes we are having to police it ourselves, which we shouldn’t have to do now we are in a year into this. We really want people to be safe.
“Having people out there to help us do that makes our life a bit easier. And we have some authority to say, 'we are not serving you until you put your mask on', unless they are exempt.”
Tim Willoughby, team leader for the Covid Support Advisors, said: “I do find now a lot of the business owners are insisting on masks.
“They are now thinking of their own safety - you wear a mask to protect others.
"So, if a business owner has the opinion that he is threatened in some way, because someone isn't wearing a mask, he has the right to choose if he will serve them or not.
“Since we have been out on the streets, I think it has made a noticeable difference.
“You can tell people’s reactions when they see these jackets. They will separate or they will put their masks on.
“Recently we have also been patrolling with local police. We have teamed together, so our teams are visible with them.
“But what the public are not fully aware of, is that we do not have authoritative powers. We are there to advise. But it’s the power of the high vis jacket.”
Katherine Hadingham, owner of florist Fig and Roses, said: “It's nice to be able to pop out and see a friendly face and ask them. They are a reassuring presence which makes people stick to the rules a bit more.”
Gemma Collins, co-owner of The Green Cupboard, added: “There are quite a few people around in high vis jackets. They are really helpful and friendly.
“A lot of the older residents are concerned and scared to go out. Many of them come here, so at least they can have their questions answered.”