Leaving the cave...

Thursday, September 10, 2020 - 11:04am

This blog is one of a series we are producing to share what we are seeing happening inside public bodies and outside in the world around us. All our staff are involved in collating information from across Wales via SenseMaker questionnaire software that helps us collect and analyse this knowledge. Our aim is to share learning from what we have found to help public bodies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic forced Wales into lockdown back in March and our public services have been rapidly responding to this ever-changing world since; learning as they went, trying to balance the safety of their staff and citizens whilst continuing to deliver crucial services. Some things we took for granted were denied to us – a simple walk in a local park, a quick play on the swings, an impromptu picnic or a kick about, and there was certainly no easy solution if you wanted to ‘spend a penny’! Our outdoor spaces effectively had to ‘close up shop’ and we all had to go home; Wales hunkered down waiting for better days.

The pandemic has affected all of us and getting out and enjoying open spaces is a good way for us to boost our wellbeing. But as we are allowed to venture out of our homes is it that simple? What has changed and what can we expect when we next go to our old favourite places or explore new ones?

Open spaces are important. The Association for Public Service Excellence calculated that councils get from £32 billion of social value from UK open spaces¹. The three National Parks in Wales deliver health benefits for the nation. They give people direct physical and mental health benefits, protect the national environment for future generations, and help improve air quality.²

Welsh Government guidance on visiting places [opens in new window] set out what is currently allowed. Outdoor visitor attractions and most indoor attractions are now allowed to be open. This includes historic houses, visitor centres and other indoor attractions. Social and physical distancing requirements remain in place and attractions are required to take all reasonable measures to stop the spread of coronavirus. The guidance recognises that some areas have limits on car parking or road closures in order to manage visitor numbers. Welsh Government advises researching the local position before travelling. It also remains sensible to avoid areas you would expect to be crowded or busy times. All outdoor sport and leisure facilities are now allowed to be open. The operators of these grounds and facilities must take all reasonable measures to manage risk and maintain physical distancing. Playgrounds were allowed to re-open from 20 July.

So, whilst we are now in a phased reopening of our open spaces it is important to remember that the virus has not gone away and local lockdowns may need to be introduced, so what have our public services learnt during their journey through a scary, challenging period that can be shared with others for the future? And what do those changes mean for us and our open spaces? The Welsh Government have provided a lot of guidance [opens in new window] for businesses reopening and councils across Wales have adopted and adapted to these new measures. We highlight some of what’s been learnt in our brief tour around Wales…

Hiya, The first stop on my trip around Wales was a quick hop across the border from England into the lovely town of Monmouth. Thankfully I found a public loo for a much-needed comfort break. The high street looked like it was waking back up with lots of safety measures in place for shoppers and workers - I was especially impressed with the red lines they have added to kerbs to aid those with limited sight - what a great idea to do this as they've widened the pavements to allow for social distancing so they are now split level. I found this out by checking out the FAQs for shoppers on the council's website - really helpful! Bye for now!
Audit Wales 24 Cathedral Road Cardiff, Wales CF11 9LJ

Hiya, Today I continued my journey heading towards Cardiff- I decided to take detour through valleys of Torfaen. As I was driving along, I noticed a family teaching their children road safety- I know the council have decided to promote this now as a lot of us are going on walks to exercise during lockdown, so it was great to see it happening. What a lovely way to teach valuable skills while keeping fit! I know they have lots of age appropriate advice for parents to access and some useful information on different ways of travelling too. It’s so nice to see some positives! Bye!
Audit Wales 24 Cathedral Road Cardiff, Wales CF11 9LJ

Hiya, Arrived at Cardiff on a lovely sunny day. There were changes to the roads that thankfully were well signposted. The shops are open again and it was good to see the city coming back to life – the one- way systems aren’t too difficult to work out and there are places to sanitise your hands. The wardens dotted about are helpful in answering questions too (you know how important my comfort breaks are!). We enjoyed an ice-cream outside the castle and were told that there will soon be lots of outdoor eating areas to enjoy to help local cafes and restaurants, so hopefully next time I come I can try them out. Cheers!
Audit Wales 24 Cathedral Road Cardiff, Wales CF11 9LJ

Hiya, Heading west from Cardiff I decided to pop into Bridgend along the way. I was pleasantly surprised to find free car parking before I headed into the high street where lots of shops are reopening. One shop owner explained they had completed some online training about COVID-19 awareness provided by the council and proudly pointed to the sticker she was given to display to reassure customers. She told me this from behind her ‘sneeze guard’ which she had also got from the council and added that there were a lot of really useful FAQs for shoppers on the council’s website. It’s nice to feel safe and reassured now we can venture back out more!
Audit Wales 24 Cathedral Road Cardiff, Wales CF11 9LJ

Hiya, Made it to beautiful West Wales and I’m delighted to be able to head along the coastal path again now its reopened. The footpaths have been maintained during lockdown do that’s good – the wardens have been using a new app on their phones to help manage this which is great. During lockdown I did check out their website and social media to have a virtual park visit – it was fun looking at the beach webcams from miles away and to see lots of photos which really cheered me up when stuck at home. I checked out all their really useful visitor information before visiting too as I like to plan ahead – so glad I did as it made my visit run smoothly. I loved that I was able to plan my walk along the coastal path using the online maps and the COVID-19 walking advice reminded me how to keep safe. Can’t wait to come back again!
Audit Wales 24 Cathedral Road Cardiff, Wales CF11 9LJ

Hiya, After enjoying lots of fresh air along the coastal path I’ve now made it to Cardigan which seems the perfect time for another ice-cream stop. It’s really reassuring that there have been lots of things put in place to re-welcome visitors and locals alike, by creating ‘safe zone’s (they even have a handy little map of these online). I was a little concerned at how they’d manage with narrow streets, but they’ve really thought things through and have put in place road closures from 11am to 6pm in some places to allow lots more space for pedestrians – great idea. One-way systems and marshalls in place all help us to stick to social distancing. It’s good to think that local businesses are now seeing the return of customers and are able to support this with lots of online information about the ‘Visit Wales, Safely’ campaign. Bye for now!
Audit Wales 24 Cathedral Road Cardiff, Wales CF11 9LJ

Hiya, After a stunning drive northwards it’s time for another National Park visit – I’ve made it to wonderful Snowdonia. I seriously considered making my way up the majestic Snowdon but a quick check of their website has made me decide against this for this trip as the train and other facilities are not yet up and running, and some of their routes aren’t open, so I’ll leave that challenge for another time. I loved my virtual visit here looking at their webcams during lockdown and there is plenty to see so I don’t feel too disappointed. Lots of visitors are now returning so I made sure I checked out where I could park using their online car park tool – that saved a lot of heartache. I also read their ‘Welcome Back Guide’ in advance online which was really useful – we all want to feel safe and also want to make sure we don’t become a problem too! I’ve taken lots of photos and am now ready for the final leg of my journey…
Audit Wales 24 Cathedral Road Cardiff, Wales CF11 9LJ

Hiya, My last stop before heading out of Wales was a quick pit stop in the market town of Holywell in Flintshire – it was great to wander through the market which has been mainly kept open during the crisis. One of the stallholders explained that a lot of their customers found it really good to just get out and chat to someone as they felt lonely and isolated at home but felt safe seeing people in the outdoor market. And the altered bus timetables which allow for social distancing have also helped people to connect with others. He told me to check out the really useful ‘vlogs’ on the council website too which I found really interesting and a nice change from just reading information. It felt like a really nice change from just reading information. It felt like a really nice way to end my journey – remembering that all of this has been about people: keeping them safe and well. Time to head home for a well deserved cuppa!
Audit Wales 24 Cathedral Road Cardiff, Wales CF11 9LJ

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Lisa Ridley has worked for Audit Wales and its predecessor bodies since 1992. She currently works within the Local Government Performance Audit team. Prior to this, Lisa has worked in Financial Audit and Corporate Services, giving her experience across a wide range of corporate and public audit topics, and experience of internal/external audit, inspection and investigation work. As well as being a qualified member of AAT, she is also is currently a part-time English Literature & Creative Writing undergraduate.

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Steve Frank is a senior auditor with Audit Wales working on various national studies and local audits. Steve spent 10 years working for the Audit Commission leaving in 2011 as the National Lead for Fire managing a core budget of £1.8 million and portfolio of 46 clients. Steve has worked for Audit Scotland, Serco, the Home Office and London Fire Brigade. This plethora of experience gives him unique insights into UK wide public policy making and delivery. Steve has a master’s degree in business and administration (MBA), a first-class honours degree in Architecture from University College London, he is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and has recently been awarded a fellowship of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.