I was extremely saddened to learn earlier this week that two Swindon residents passed away having contracted COVID-19. The news was all the more significant as they were the first Swindon people to die from the virus. I would again like to pass on my condolences to the families of both patients for their loss at this very sad time.

The ongoing pandemic is having a huge impact on all our lives and I would like to reiterate the importance of heeding the Government’s advice to stay safe by staying indoors and adhering to the social distancing guidance if you have to venture outside for essential shopping.

We will only come through this public health crisis if we work together, look out for one another and follow the guidance from the scientific experts.

I am sure events of the last week have presented all of you with significant challenges both professionally and personally. Working from home is not the norm for a lot of people, but I hope you are adjusting to the change as best you can.

Here at the Council all staff who can work from home are doing so and we are keeping as many of our essential frontline services going as possible. Of course, as more staff are affected by the outbreak we may have to make some changes, but we are regularly updating our Coronavirus council services status page so please keep checking it for the latest information – www.swindon.gov.uk/coronavirus

Today, you may have seen that we launched a package of measures designed to help both residents and businesses during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The 11 measures cover a range of service areas and include the millions of pounds in support that will be available to businesses over the coming days and weeks as well as the council tax relief from the Government’s £500m hardship fund, for which some residents will be eligible.

You may also have seen details of a new voluntary scheme we have launched with Voluntary Action Swindon and the Volunteer Centre Swindon. I’m very pleased and proud to say that we now have an army of more than 500 volunteers who have signed-up for volunteering opportunities, including speaking to someone over the phone to offer some companionship or collecting shopping for those who are staying at home.

We have also relaxed our parking enforcement in residents’ parking zones to make it easier for key workers and volunteers to help vulnerable members of the community and, with all of us having to say at home, our car parks will be opened up for use by residents with parking permits.

If you have library books that may expire over the next few weeks you don’t need to worry as these will be automatically renewed, and we will also renew any library memberships for a further six months if they are due to expire.

Couples who have had to postpone their weddings at the Register Office will be given first refusal on booking their rearranged wedding and they will also have their charges waived for re-announcing their Notice of Marriage. You can find more details about the package of support on our Coronavirus webpage on the Council website.