It’s a year this week since the Prime Minister appeared on our TV screens to explain the UK was entering a period a lockdown to try to bring the rising rates of coronavirus infections under control.
Within days, schemes were set up by the Treasury to support businesses which had been forced to close, the term ‘furlough’ became well known, our children stopped going to school and the sound of traffic was replaced with birdsong and the distant hum of lawnmowers in the glorious sunshine which started that week and lasted through to the summer.
Clearly, it was not all birdsong for many who did not qualify for the Government’s more generous support measures, or who were laid off as ailing businesses closed. My constituency casework load increased five fold with letters and emails from those facing an uncertain future, and worrying about how they would be able to afford to pay bills, care for elderly and infirm relatives, and keep their families safe from the virus which was spreading and causing the deaths of so many people.
Our local NHS staff stepped up to the plate, with Brentwood Community Hospital opening up five wards over the course of the year to deal with COVID patients. But other public sector workers pulled their weight too, not least the council staff in Brentwood and Epping who found themselves setting up complex financial support and business grants systems while working from home.
A vast team of volunteers swung into action across the constituency, working to stock and staff food banks for those whose incomes had crashed so unexpectedly, collect and deliver prescriptions and shopping for those who were shielding, and sewing masks and scrubs for NHS staff.
Parliament went online, and I found myself taking part in meetings with Ministers via Zoom and Teams to ensure the concerns of my constituents were brought to their attention so ever developing policies and support systems could be tweaked accordingly.
It has been a year like no other. But there are now grounds for hope that life will, slowly return to normal. The UK is admired across the world for having helped to develop a viable vaccine against COVID-19 and have more than half of all adults in the UK have now been vaccinated. The Brentwood Centre has come into its own as a mass vaccination hub, and the testing system for those with, and without, symptoms is easily accessible in various venues across the constituency.
I am exceptionally proud of all those who have come forward to help, who have worked above and beyond their usual hours, and who have adapted the way they work and trade to support themselves and others in the last year. We’re not out of the woods yet but we can, all being well, look forward to better times ahead.