‘Humbling’ time for official who guided us through the pandemic  

Adrian Chapman, council chief who helped lead pandemic response

Adrian Chapman, director of communities for Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council. And a key figure in helping through some of the worst of the pandemic. - Credit: CCC

It is hard to think of anyone more suited to the description ‘the right person, in the right place at the right time” than Adrian Chapman.   

As director of communities for Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council he was at the heart of co-ordinating responses to the pandemic.   

“I describe it as the most humbling year of my career and I have been in public service for 35 years,” he says. “I have never known a year like it.”  

His ‘normal’ day would be overseeing services ranging from the coroner’s office, registration, libraries, adult skills and domestic abuse.   

It’s a vast and complex arena.  

“I have got and still believe I have, the best job in the world getting to do all of that for the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough," he says.  

“Early on we were most worried about our vulnerable residents or those who were poorly, or with complex health needs, or people in receipt of social care services.”  

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Cambridgeshire set up a co-ordination hub to offer immediate contact with those who could help.  

He sums it up as a “a roll up your sleeves approach and getting stuck in and leaving our egos behind and actually focusing on communities where need is greatest”.  

Within six to eight weeks Cambridgeshire found itself well and truly up and running quickly.   

"The role of hub quickly expanded to offer support for example to clinically extreme vulnerable people and in Cambridgeshire alone we identified 42,000 of these,” he says.   

“We were making calls to that group two or three times a week and where people were happy to hear us from  

“We delivered food packages, we carried out household chores such as dog walking, gardening, and anything else to support those who were clinically vulnerable and often terrified”.  

The hub used a mix of staff redeployed from other services and volunteers who came forward.   

And he particularly has praise for the parish and town councils which he describes as “exemplary”.  

"They were filling in the gaps, not waiting to be asked and getting stuck in – it was incredibly emotional to see that good will and effort”.  

At one stage there were 230 people at the Cambridgeshire hub on the phone – talking to those who needed help and support,  

The county council also rented a warehouse in Alconbury where 4,800 food parcels were delivered from to those most in need.   

“We worked with the British Red Cross – who were absolutely stonkingly brilliant - who packed and distributed these parcels once we advised where they needed to be,” says Mr Chapman.   

The warehouse remains open, scaled back but available with resources that some clinically vulnerable still require.   

Going forward, he says, the lessons learned will be vital.   

“Finding the best and most local part of our public sector system to deliver a service is important,” he says.   

“Gone are days when social care rests with this or housing there or voluntary support sits here and there –we need a new understanding about a whole community.”   

And cutting through bureaucracy to benefit from the new partnerships created by Covid-19.   

"Information is power, knowledge is power and to share it more openly we get to a better solution,” he says.  

Efforts will be on supporting those most affected by pandemic.  

The council is also supporting those unable to get vaccinations nearby by offering transport and the hub, he says, now focuses on “the big push” to encourage everyone to get the jab.  

Easing of lockdown has, he says, restored people’s freedoms, restored their ability to socialise and attend theatres, restaurants and concerts.   

“We don’t want to preach to people – our advice is to trust your judgement.   

“We’re simply asking people to show common sense - we want people to be sensible and to make their own choices and judgements.  

“That can mean, instance, if you want to wear a mask put one on and don’t be put off because others aren’t.”  

Mr Chapman adds: “We are not going away anytime soon,” he says. “We are not a flash in the pan. We’re here to last.”