A year of varied experiences

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An artists impression of the novel coronavirus

It is a year since the Prime Minister uttered the words: “You must stay at home” and we moved into lockdown – and, with Covid 19 deaths now reaching 126,000 in the UK, there is much reflection about the past year, and not a little speculation about what comes next.

Looking back, for some who have lost family members there is grief and despair. For those in isolation, in care, quarantine, are vulnerable or have lost employment there continues to be a struggle for everyday living. Separation from family has been widespread. However, personal experiences have varied.

For those better placed, working from home has meant adjustment, more time with close family and in some cases more savings, no commuting and certainly less demand on the wardrobe – and most have had to embrace change in some form or other.

People in health, care and public service organisations have risen to the challenges in often very difficult circumstances. Volunteers have stepped forward to add value. In Rye and District groups such as Rye Mutual Aid and the Food Bank have operated throughout.

There is much work under way to analyse the experience. A running survey during the year by several UK universities has highlighted the sort of impacts that we have seen locally. A report by Sheffield University suggests that those facing collective trauma tend to bond and we have seen some of that here.

A new found sense of purpose

As we are social beings the impact of isolation and loneliness has affected some more seriously than others. Many of us know someone with mental health issues or reduced fitness. There has been time for self examination and an opportunity for a change of lifestyle or just a reappraisal of priorities.

Many have returned to old activities or adopted new ones. One counter to isolation has been found by those who have volunteered to help others. This has often led to a new found sense of purpose and usefulness.

For those who have had the virus and been aware of it, and not everyone has, recovery has often been marked by extensive after effects. Known as long Covid, there are cases in Rye.

We all need to communicate. Social media and emails have been greatly enhanced by Zoom and Teams technology – for business, education and social connection. Many of us have become familiar with cries such as “you’re still on mute” or “you’ve frozen”.

Post Covid chances to change Rye

The pandemic has provided an opportunity for a renewed consideration of many of the social and structural issues affecting Rye. The fact that we are relatively disconnected from the local authorities and main services has been brought into sharp focus. Accessing routine test and trace facilities or vaccine usually involves significant travel – and social services are remote and difficult to access for those who are less mobile. Post Covid, any opportunity to improve matters should be taken.

Some of the issues affecting Rye were listed in Rye Town Hall on Monday evening when Rye Town Council held a selection process for a new Councillor. Five candidates presented themselves, by Zoom naturally, and during the hustings, the five were asked to list their priorities and ambitions, were they to be successful.

The Rye Neighbourhood Plan was cited by some. Not only is this the blueprint that allows the community to influence future development and preserve the character of Rye, but it contains much more – in the form of community aspirations. Some of what the candidates spoke of chimed with the plan.

They listed aspirations to improve matters such as community safety and CCTV, to provide greater protection for the environment, more affordable housing, the need to influence High Street rejuvenation, ideas to hep with traffic and parking, to tackle unemployment, to provide services for mental health, food poverty, the digital divide and adult education – and they concluded by addressing what needed to be done to build on the community resilience developed during the last year.

Those points could provide a long term action plan for Rye in the post Covid era and let us hope that some of the issues will be taken forward.

But – for the immediate future? 

While the government hopes that the vaccine rollout will cut hospital admissions and deaths among the old and vulnerable, with just over a half of the adult population vaccinated with a first jab there is still 75% of the programme to go. The feasibility of summer holidays and travel are hot topics, but new restrictions on both incoming and outgoing movement suggest that there might be reduced opportunity this year.

Locally the hospitality industry, cultural and heritage establishments, and businesses providing visitor attractions are hanging on. But, as if to dampen down optimism, the Prime Minister has spoken of a “third wave of infection in mainland Europe washing up on our shores”. That is not a prospect many fancy, but he was reflecting the views of some experts this week who have suggested that the pandemic could continue throughout 2021 and perhaps into next year.

Despite the forecast, many see light at the end of the tunnel and the Prime Minister ended his daily statement on March 23 on a more optimistic note –  “and cautiously but irreversibly, step by step, jab by jab, this country is on the path to reclaiming our freedoms”.

Image Credits: Pete Linforth / Pixabay https://pixabay.com/illustrations/covid-19-virus-coronavirus-pandemic-4922384/.

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