The COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on every part of our work during 2020-21.
When the COVID-19 second wave hit in 2020, our community was significantly affected.
But we worked with other agencies to help get the virus under control.
We supported the State Government’s response. This included providing:
- 21 council facilities for testing, rapid community engagement and emergency coordination
- around 45 officers to assist
- support for communications activities.
COVID-19 has highlighted the strength of our local community.
Community groups have been at the forefront of supporting those in need. We created grants to support them and their efforts.
Our Thrive Community Grants gave over $96,000 to local community-led activities. We gave grants of up to $5,000 to 21 groups in Merri-bek.
We worked with these groups to coordinate a local emergency relief program.
We provided direct food and material aid, and personal support to over 400 recipients. This included distributing thousands of masks to our most vulnerable community members.
We also provided mental health services and anti-racism measures.
We built on the service changes we implemented at the start of the pandemic. We faced many challenges. This was because of changes in restrictions and several lockdowns.
Most of our core services continued. We kept providing essential support for older or vulnerable residents. We put measures in place to ensure we delivered services in a COVID-safe way.
We kept collecting waste and recycling, and continued maintaining our roads. People used our parks and open spaces more. We increased the frequency of bin collections there. We also adjusted our maintenance program.
We spoke to residents about the impact of the pandemic on them. Then we developed a COVID-19 recovery plan. This covers a broad range of actions we will take to support the community during and after the pandemic.
The pandemic had an impact on our financial position. This is because of its impact on our revenue and the economy. You can read more about this in our Financial overview section.
Four of our 5 libraries closed or operated reduced hours for extended periods. These forced closures and restrictions led to a 67% decrease in library attendance.
We continued our delivery and click and collect services. Over 50,000 items were loaned these ways. This included 36,886 items delivered to the homes of older or housebound residents.
We continued to help residents improve their digital literacy. We coached over 250 people through telephone and in-person sessions. Our iPad lending scheme continued.
We continued events and storytimes online using Facebook and YouTube. Our social groups continued using Microsoft Teams.
Leisure and aquatic centres
Restrictions again had a significant impact on attendances and memberships. Our centres had to close on several occasions. When they opened, they often had ongoing capacity restrictions.
We suspended memberships during closures. We also froze membership fees for 2020-21. We also provided online workouts for members and the community.
Young people, older people and families
We continued our modified Maternal and Child Health service for families during 2020-21. And our immunisation services continued, with extra hygiene measures in place.
Our Oxygen Youth Space had to close during the lockdowns. We provided direct support to Merri-bek’s young people in different ways. These included phone and video calls, and text messages. We continued programs online.
Social isolation in our older residents was also a focus. We maintained essential services including:
- direct support for people at home
- delivery of meals
We also implemented a range of initiatives, including:
- online programs
- phone-based social support
- small group programs.
We changed how we engaged with our community under COVID-19 restrictions. We used a variety of ways to hear from people. We enabled them to have conversations about local issues in person and online.
The number of people engaging with Conversations Merri-bek continued to grow. Conversations Merri-bek is our online community and digital engagement site.
We hosted COVID-safe engagement opportunities when it was possible to meet in person. During lockdowns, we provided:
- interactive online workshops and forums
- digital engagement opportunities
- dedicated times when our community could call and talk with us about local issues.
- over 10 COVID-safe pop-up events
- over 150 telephone interviews
- over 20 online workshops
- 5 community forums.
We also appointed Merri-bek’s first ever community panel for Imagine Merri-bek. You can read more about this in the Our new vision section of our Achievements of the year page.
Other key projects we engaged our community about include:
- the impacts of COVID-19 to help us develop a recovery plan
- kerbside waste projects
- Fawkner Leisure Centre upgrade
- streetscape and local park improvement projects.
We created our Be Kind campaign in 2019-20. We designed it to make sure locals did not feel alone or isolated.
As the second wave continued, we increased our communications. We promoted health information, as well as information about relief and support services.
We reached out to vulnerable groups. We did mail outs and continued our Merri-bek Connectors program. This program was one way we talked to people from migrant communities. We engaged 7 residents with strong networks in their communities. They shared essential health, restriction and service information in their language. Over 7,000 community members received information. These were people who would otherwise not likely be engaged by our communications.
We implemented our Boost for Business programs and activities throughout 2020-21. We supported over 3,400 businesses.
We awarded 2 rounds of COVID-19 grants. In total, we awarded 257 grants worth $550,000. These went to a range of local businesses.
Other activities to support businesses included:
- our Love Merri-bek Buy Local campaign
- our business support hotline and webinars
- a shopfront improvement program which awarded 34 grants
- waiving registration fees
- the MoreSpace vacant shop initiative, which other local governments replicated.
We also supported hospitality businesses to offer outdoor dining. This included reviewing our guidelines so we processed applications faster.
From October 2020 to June 2021, our Love Merri-bek Dine Local program:
- issued 299 footway trading permits
- provided 34 businesses with temporary and short-term parklets
- enabled 5 road closure permits
- issued permits for 7 extra temporary food truck locations.
We started developing recovery programs to help create jobs in Merri-bek. We are directing more of our spending to local businesses and social enterprises.
We developed an arts recovery grants program called Flourish. We provided over $200,000 to 30 projects by local artists and arts organisations.
We produced a range of festivals and events to support and encourage the community. This included the Brunswick Music Festival which sold out in record time. It supported hundreds of musicians and local music venues.
We delivered the Community Creator program. This helped artists, businesses and community organisations by providing paid employment opportunities.
Our Making Space residency program connected local creatives with temporary spaces. We delivered Making Space with RMIT and the Brunswick Design District. It offered up to 20 short-term creative residencies in 2021.
We continued delivering our services in different ways. Many of our staff continued to be redeployed from services that were unable to function as usual.
We worked to keep staff and customers in our front-facing services protected. We also focused on the mental health of our employees.
Our involvement in the Working for Victoria initiative saw us recruit more staff.
You can read more about this State Government-funded initiative in the Working for Victoria section of our Achievements of the year page.