Your Essex: February edition

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Essex river and landscape in winter

Welcome to Your Essex for February 2021. We have lots to share with you this month, from Covid-19 news to green schemes you can get involved with. There are activities for the whole family to do at home, as well as how you can register for a postal vote before local elections in May.

Find what you're interested in:

Covid-19 news

a resident speaking to a volunteer at a fast Covid-19 test centre

Fast walk-in Covid-19 tests available at a centre near you

Around 1 in 3 people with Covid-19 do not have any symptoms.

Walk-in appointments are now available to give more flexibility for those who are unable to work from home and want to get tested for peace of mind and reassurance. You can walk in and get tested at any of the 13 testing centres across Essex.

It only takes 30 minutes to get a test result and you can choose whether to get tested near home or work.

The fast tests are available to anyone in Essex who is NOT showing symptoms of Covid-19.

Walk in, book an appointment online or call 0333 772 6144.

If you do have symptoms of Covid-19, you should book a test on GOV.UK. 

Apply for a £500 self-isolation support payment 

There are two self-isolation support schemes available to Essex residents. They both offer a £500 payment for the 10-day self-isolation period. 

If you do not qualify for the government self-isolation payment, you may be eligible for a payment thanks to a locally-based scheme here in Essex.

Apply for a self-isolation support payment from your local council. 

Local vaccination roll-out ramps up

There is a new large vaccination centre planned to open today (Friday 12 February) at The Mill Arts & Events Centre in Rayleigh.

This will bring the tally of large NHS vaccination centres across Essex to 8, including:

  • Chelmsford City Racecourse
  • Colchester United Jobserve Community Stadium (this site has been closed this week due to snow but has reopened today)
  • The Lodge, Runwell
  • Clacton Hospital
  • Harlow Leisurezone
  • The Cliffs Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea
  • Alastair Farquharson Centre, Thurrock Community Hospital

The NHS is offering vaccines to people aged over 70, care home residents and health and social care workers first.

If you are aged 70+, you can book a vaccination if you have not yet received your first dose.

Please be aware of vaccination scams. You will never be asked to pay for a vaccine from the NHS. You can report a scam to Trading Standards.

Get practical support if you are self-isolating

The Essex Wellbeing Service is delivering food, medicine and essential supplies to people most at risk of Covid-19 in our county.

If you’re isolating and need support, get in touch with the team through the Essex Wellbeing Service website.

Get help coping with a bereavement

If you have lost a friend or a loved one and need somebody to talk to, there are people in your community who want to help. They understand what you’re going through and are just a few clicks away.

Find bereavement support from community and faith organisations on our website.

How a mental health service could help you

We heard from a young woman from Tiptree how reaching out for support from Essex mental health services helped her. With their support, Ellie was able to understand her symptoms, take control of her depression and transform her life.

Ellie has a message of hope for others. Watch our YouTube video to hear it.

If you or someone you know needs help, take a look at mental health services on our website.

Family fun for February half term

Join a half term story hunt

Storyteller John Kirk holding random items in a story hunt

Join storyteller John Kirk this February half term for an online story hunt for all the family.

The story-led scavenger hunt will take you into a world of wonder and imagination. But be warned: you'll turn your house upside down!

Join one or both of the events: they're at 10am on Tuesday 16 February and Friday 19 February. They are free and suitable for children aged 3+.

Book your place by visiting the Essex Libraries website.

Start the Daily Mile with Active Essex

Two parents holding the hands of their young child while walking through a park

The Daily Mile At Home is helping families stay healthy by walking or running for 15 minutes a day.

They've created fun weekly challenges in partnership with the London Marathon to keep your family active and motivated.

Find out more about The Daily Mile in your local area on the Active Essex website.

Celebrate Essex 2020: the year of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths

Essex 2020 is drawing to a close, but there are still plenty of activities to get involved with.

If you have a daughter aged 9 to 19, she's invited to join the Essex Steamettes and learn creative coding, digital art and engineering. The workshops are every Sunday and Tuesday.

Join us for an online celebration of Essex 2020 on Wednesday 3 March and a look back at the extraordinary year of science, technology, engineering, art and maths.

Check out more highlights and resources from Essex 2020, with activities for children, informative videos and lots more.

Take a front row seat for Essex wildlife

A badger in the woods

Essex Wildlife Trust benefits from the support of the Essex Lottery. By playing for £1 a week, you can support them as well as other good causes around the county.

The Wildlife Trust's webcams are a great way to feel at one with nature from the comfort of your home. You'll get a rare glimpse into the lives of some of Essex's most elusive animals, plus tips on how to spot them in the wild.

Watch the wildlife webcams on the Essex Wildlife Trust website.

Activities to do this month

Find environmentally friendly ways to dispose of unwanted items


Love Essex has made it easier than ever to dispose of items in the greenest way possible.

Just type the item and your postcode into their new online tool and you'll be given different ways to dispose of it. The most environmentally-friendly choices will be at the top of the list.

Give it a try today!

Share the love with a local business this Valentine's Day

Lots of Essex-based businesses have fantastic food and gift offers to help you celebrate Valentine's Day at home. Whether you’re holding a virtual movie marathon or planning a date night, share some love with local business-owners this February.

Locally-owned restaurants and retailers need our support more than ever. 

Here's how to find local businesses:

Find more gift ideas at #LoveLocalEssex on Instagram.

Read Essex Explorer e-magazine

Front cover of Essex Explorer e-magazine

In the latest autumn/winter edition of Essex Explorer, learn the history of a local Tudor garden and get tips from the head gardener at Cressing Temple Barns.

Take an insider look at the local grape harvest at New Hall Vineyard and meet author Stephen Neale, who talks about his love of the Essex coastline and countryside.

Discover the migratory birds at Marsh Farm Country Park, find delicious recipes and enter local competitions.

Read the latest issue of Essex Explorer on the Explore Essex website.

Learn through lockdown with ACL Essex


ACL Essex has a wide range of online learning courses and opportunities so you can keep learning.

The virtual classrooms allow you to interact with other learners and get support from tutors. There are also financial support options available.

There is so much to discover, including:

  • creative tasters
  • learn at your leisure
  • keep learning activities
  • celebrating carers
  • qualifications and skills for employment
  • get back into work
  • community and family learning
  • English, Maths, Science and Digital
  • mental health and wellbeing
  • apprenticeships

View the Learn Through Lockdown activities on the ACL Essex website.

Enter the Visit Essex photography competition

Naze Lock at nighttime in front of a starry sky

Naze Lock by @Shakey_Lens_photography

Share the beauty of your local area in Visit Essex's photography competition and win an RHS Gift Membership courtesy of RHS Garden Hyde Hall.

The winning photo will appear on the Visit Essex website and Visit Essex's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

To enter, email with your photo, its date and location, along with your name and social media handles. Use #VEphotocomp to share your submission on social media. Entries close on Sunday 28 February.

Find out more about the photography competition on the Visit Essex website.

Green schemes

Power your home with solar energy


Solar panels can be a great investment. They help to reduce your electricity bills and power your home or business while reducing your environmental impact.

Solar Together Essex is a group-buying scheme that provides a hassle-free way to make the transition to clean energy at a competitive price.

Register your interest for free to receive a personal recommendation without commitment to purchase.

Registration to the scheme opens on the 15 February.

Time is running out to register for the Essex Energy Switch


Let’s work together to save money on your gas and electricity. The Essex Energy Switch helps you find the best energy deals.

The more people that register, the bigger your potential savings. It helps us increase our purchasing power and we can negotiate a better deal than those available directly or via price comparison websites.

Get your free personal offer by registering using a recent gas and electricity bill. You can then decide to switch: there's no obligation.

It takes 5 minutes to complete and you could save money on your bills.

Green Homes Grant

If you own your own home and have a household income below £30,000, you may be eligible for a grant of up to £10,000 to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

The measures available under the scheme include loft insulation, cavity or solid wall insulation, or energy efficient heating. The funding covers the entire cost of the improvements, up to £10,000.

To be eligible, you must:

The funding is available on a first come, first served basis. Find out if you are eligible for the scheme on our website.

Essex Climate Action Commission calls on the county to lead the way in climate change action

Essex could lead the way in the fight against climate change in the UK, according to the chair of the Essex Climate Action Commission.

Commissioners met recently to hear from its Land Use working group. They talked about their ambitions for Essex to become a leading county in taking climate action. They also heard proposals for sustainable land management.

“Essex could be at the forefront of combating climate change in the UK” said Lord Randall, chair of the Essex Climate Action Commission.

Strengthening our communities

Free school meals for February half term

We're providing free school meal vouchers for children and young people this half term. An estimated 35,0000 families are set to benefit.

Find out more about the free school meals for half term in our news story.

Support a disabled child by providing respite care

Georgina and her husband with Martha, their disabled 12-year-old daughter

You can support a child with disabilities from as little as one weekend per month.

The Tweeds (pictured) are a family in Essex who have benefited from the support of foster carers. Their 12-year-old daughter Martha has complex needs and requires round-the-clock care.

"My husband and I were at breaking point in our relationship - and indeed as a family in general," said Georgina Tweed. "When Sally and Barry first looked after Martha so we could have a respite break, it felt like a weight had been lifted. It meant we could spend quality time with our other three children."

You can provide respite care for a child with disabilities alongside a full-time job. We provide all the training you need and we have increased what you can earn as a foster carer this year.

Find out more about fostering a child with disabilities or come along to our online information event on Saturday 27 February.

North Essex pilot scheme aims to help most vulnerable families

We have launched a pilot scheme to support vulnerable families in Tendring.

A team of professionals from disciplines including mental health, youth work, domestic abuse, and drug and alcohol recovery will provide intensive support to vulnerable families. They will work alongside frontline teams to help families develop long-term resilience and connections with community support services.

We chose Tendring for the pilot because research shows that some areas have the highest levels of deprivation and vulnerability in the county.

Find out more about the pilot scheme to help vulnerable families on our website.

A new network to tackle homelessness in Essex

We have joined a new network which supports local government innovators to tackle homelessness in the UK. As part of the network, we'll receive world-class guidance on improving our homelessness service.

The What Works Community provides a space for leading councils to develop and share ideas with peers. 

Find out more about the What Works Community on our website.

Essex introduces new platform for health and social care

My Care Record helps our teams support patients by combining their health records from different services. This helps make our health and social care support more efficient and effective.

Find out more about what My Care Record means for the people we support on their website.

Business and economy

Sign up to our newsletter to stay informed on Covid-19 business support, initiatives and events.

Apply for the Essex Business Adaptation Grant

Christian holding a virtual fitness class

The Essex Business Adaptation Grant is helping business owners around the county adapt to Covid-19 restrictions.

Back in November 2020, Christian from Wivenhoe had to close his business MicroGym due to Covid-19. He applied for the Business Adaptation Grant to get funding to change his way of working.

“Prior to the lockdown I was delivering face-to-face fitness sessions with my clients in the studio," said Christian.

“Having conducted research into virtual training sessions and consulting my existing clients, I decided to provide online sessions from the gym.”

The funding helped him upgrade his technical equipment to deliver virtual workouts. He has since established a new client list and he plans to continue running virtual classes when MicroGym reopens.

If you're looking for support to adapt to current Covid-19 restrictions, apply for a Business Adaptation Grant.

Grow your business with an ACL apprenticeship

A young male apprentice in an office

ACL Essex is the largest provider of adult education in Essex and the main apprenticeship provider for Essex County Council. Apprenticeships are delivered to businesses and public sector organisations across the county, and support individuals looking for work and development opportunities.

ACL offers apprenticeships at levels 2 through to 5 in a range of occupational sectors. Programmes are suitable for school and college leavers, those currently in employment looking for a change in career, and those who require new skills to support a promotion or change of job role.

They are continuing to deliver their high-quality apprenticeship programme throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and can help you consider different options for your business and the specific circumstances you are currently working within.

Businesses could receive of up to £3,000 to support them to take on a new apprentice and the programmes are designed to be as flexible as possible to meet the demands of a busy workplace.

Find out how an apprenticeship could help your business on the ACL Essex website.

Roads and infrastructure

Essex Highways is gritting across Essex

The Essex Highways gritter crews have been out gritting major roads during this spell of bad weather. You can track the gritters in your area on their website.

If you need to leave home for an essential journey, check out Essex Highways on Twitter for regular updates on road safety and closed roads.

Shortlist of junction improvement options confirmed as part of Army and Navy Sustainable Transport Package

Aerial view of the Army and Navy junction

Plans to transform the way people travel in Chelmsford have moved forward.

A shortlist of improvement options for the Army and Navy junction will go to public consultation in the summer, subject to final assessments. The three options are separate T-junctions, a hamburger roundabout and an enlarged roundabout. The option of a two-way flyover has been discounted.

The Army and Navy Sustainable Transport Package aims to provide better travel choices in Chelmsford. It will encourage safer, greener and healthier ways of getting around the city, particularly for shorter journeys where walking and cycling could be the first choice.

Park and ride services in Sandon and Colchester closed due to Covid-19

Sandon and Colchester park and ride services will remain closed until further notice.

The suspension of the services is in response to government guidance to stay at home.

"During this crisis, we need to use our resources wisely," said Councillor Kevin Bentley, Deputy Leader of Essex County Council and Cabinet Member for Infrastructure. "This means deploying resources to support commercial bus services where passengers may have no other transport options."

Read more about the park and ride closures in our news story.

Get involved

Register for a postal vote

Elections for all 75 seats at Essex County Council will take place on Thursday 6 May. This is your chance to choose who represents you on issues that directly affect your day-to-day life.

You can register for a postal vote online at GOV.UK. You will need to register to vote if you haven't already.

Find out more about the local elections in our news story.

Take part in Census 2021 this spring

Households across Essex will be asked to take part in Census 2021 this spring.

The census, run by the Office for National Statistics, helps us plan and fund public services. You will soon receive a letter explaining how you can take part online.

Iain Bell, deputy national statistician at the Office for National Statistics, said: “Based on the information you give, it ensures millions of pounds are invested in emergency services, mental health care, school places, hospital beds, houses, roads, GP’s and dentist’s services."

For more information and advice on how to answer the questions, visit the Census website.

Join the Essex residents' panel

Join our online panel and help us make a difference to your community

Join our residents' panel for the opportunity to tell us your views about the services and issues that matter to you.

We held our first survey in January. We had a great response from residents who shared lots of interesting views. We will use your valuable feedback to look at ways to make improvements.

To be a panel member, you must:

  • live in Essex
  • be aged 18 or older