2020 – The Year That Never Was…..

As we enter the final few days of the year, it is hard not to think back to the dawn of a new decade and all the hopes, plans and aspirations that come with the New Year. I don’t think any of us could imagine how quickly the world would be turned upside down to deliver changes and heartache not experienced for over 75 years. So many people have suffered the loss of family and friends, difficult at the best of times but more so when isolation and lockdown denied the opportunity to be at the bedside of loved ones, frightened and in alien surroundings of visors, gowns, and gloves; to be denied the opportunity to be with family to offer comfort and support or share precious memories; and so many people unable to pay their respects and grieve with restrictions on funerals and gatherings.
There’s been cancelled holidays, festivals, events, sports; restrictions on meeting family and friends, and all travel curtailed except for essential journeys. Grandparents unable to see grandchildren, parents their children, partners forced apart and friends isolated. We emerged from the first lockdown, keen to rediscover our previous freedoms that we so easily took for granted – meeting friends, joining in team sports, eating out – but all in new and slightly uncomfortable environments. And then the infections started to increase, and restrictions returned, rising through the tiers, and culminating in a second national lockdown. Hopes were raised for families to meet up at Christmas and enjoy a respite from the restrictions, only to be dashed as the virus once again spread across communities. Even now, the days ahead are not clear with the shadow of rising infection rates and busy hospitals hanging heavily around us.
But throughout the year, beacons of light have been shining in the dark. Communities have been reborn, with volunteers stepping in to help near neighbours and those further afield. Support groups started up, looking after those shielding or on their own. Great stories of the little things being done that are making huge differences.
We’ve adapted and learnt new skills. Thousands working from home were considered the lucky ones, others not so lucky facing cuts to income or even loss of jobs. Prior to March, if you spoke of Zoom to anyone over 50, chances are they’d think off the Fat Larry’s Band hit of the 80’s rather than the video conferencing to which we’ve all become so adept. It’s not just businesses but families and friends using Zoom to keep in touch. Zooming has become so quickly accepted that the new standard Zoom meeting starts with the inevitable “Hello! Can you hear me or am I muted?” and saying goodbye becomes like the ending of an episode of The Walton’s!
The daily exercise became ever more important in relieving the tensions of staying at home, with discoveries of the wonders that lay within your neighbourhood. I live in Frecheville and for several years, residents have enjoyed the sight of a pair of Swans raising their young on the pond. This year, due to the lockdown, many more people have become aware of the swans and social media has been full of pictures of them, on and around the pond, even walking through the surrounding streets taking the eight cygnets for tour of the neighbourhood. Across the city, people passing in the streets or the fields have stopped to have a chat, obviously observing the new norm of social distancing. Neighbours are gathering for daily workouts on the traffic free roads, singers are entertaining with impromptu kerbside performances, fund raising has taken on local actions but with national support. Footpaths that seldom saw more than a dozen or so people walking across them in a week have become well-trodden routes linking newly discovered green and open spaces. Wildlife and nature have prospered with the reduction in traffic, air quality has improved, and we have all recognised that it’s possible to get about on foot or by bike. Deer spotted in the city centre, badgers and foxes more visible in the daylight, with bird song louder and sweeter in our back gardens: all signs of how nature has adapted to the change in circumstances.
And will we ever forget the way the whole country came together to thank the NHS and other key workers? That first night when we clapped and cheered just after sunset, the sky suddenly awash with fireworks! As the weeks progressed, the volume of clapping, whistles, cheers, horns and pan rattling increased, the sun appeared a little higher in the sky each week and the dwindling fireworks replaced with flocks of birds raised from their roosting by the sudden noise.
We are living through a period of our history that will be studied in schools for years to come, and there will no doubt be the questions raised by children in the future: “ Grandpa, what did you do during the Covid-19 lockdown?” Indeed, it is already become part of everyday life, raising questions among children. After the first few weeks in lockdown, my 5-year-old granddaughter asked her dad “Did you have a virus (lockdown) when you were little?”.
We’ve seen fundamental changes in all aspects of our lives and been presented with a chance to rethink what we do, raising questions around the when, the how and the where. It’s almost like someone has pressed the reset button and we are now in Life Version 2.0.
Sheffield has always been viewed as the country’s biggest village and we must make sure that our communities continue to enjoy the newfound feeling of belonging and identity developed over the last eight months. Neighbourhood groups that have grown up through necessity need to be helped to make that step change to formally constituted groups. Community spirt arising from helping with shopping or collecting prescriptions, from social calls to check on health and wellbeing, the daily exercise sessions, socially distanced VE street parties, Neighbourhood WhatsApp groups and quizzes – all have presented the opportunity for people to start talking to their neighbours and develop their community.
We, as a City, can stand proud of our achievements of the past and it has long been said that our resolve and determination has been forged in steel. Although local politicians across all parties will have differing views on how limited resources should be allocated, I am sure we are united in wanting the absolute best for Sheffield’s constituent communities. So, in this new world that we now find ourselves in, it is time to look to the future. Businesses will be changing how they do things, the council needs to review how we deliver services, we need to look at what we all want for our communities. We will not be forgiven if we waste this chance to build on the changes brought about through necessity – let us all get behind developing the absolute best opportunities for our communities!

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