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Community leaders reflect on a year of sadness, challenge and inspiration

Published: Mon 22nd March, 2021

  • March 23, 2021 marks the anniversary of the first national lockdown
    March 23, 2021 marks the anniversary of the first national lockdown

Community leaders in Charnwood have reflected on the past 12 months as the nation marks one year since the start of the first national lockdown.

On March 23, 2020 the Prime Minister took the unprecedented step of announcing that everyone must stay home to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Schools, businesses, public buildings, leisure centres, churches, community centres and more all closed their doors. There have now been three national lockdowns.

Since last March, more than 12,000 Covid-19 cases have been recorded in Charnwood and, sadly, more than 300 people in the borough have lost their lives.

On Tuesday, March 23, flags at the offices of Charnwood Borough Council and Loughborough Town Hall will be flown at half-mast to remember those who have died. There will also be a national minute’s silence held at 12pm which people in Charnwood are being encouraged to support.

In the evening, the Council’s offices in Loughborough will be lit up to thank the NHS, care workers and all key workers.

People across the country are also being encouraged to light up their doorsteps in the evening and a candle will be lit at the Carillon in Queen’s Park. The carillon will also be played on the day. People can also submit their memories from the past year in the Council’s online Book of Memories.

A plan has already been unveiled for a lasting memorial in Loughborough to mark the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on local communities. The Hope Bell, revealed by the Loughborough Town Deal Board, would commemorate the lives lost to Covid-19, honour key workers who have helped battle the pandemic and be a symbol of hope for the future.

Cllr Jonathan Morgan, Leader of Charnwood Borough Council

“The past year has been one of great sadness but also inspiration. Too many people have lost their lives, but many more could also have died without our fantastic NHS and care workers.

“Key workers have also risen to the challenge and kept critical services operating so we could remain at home.

“Our communities have also inspired us by pulling together in a time of national crisis to look after each other.

“Staff and members of this Council have worked hard to support residents and businesses and we said at the start of the pandemic that we would stand by our communities. We have done exactly that and we will continue to do so.”

Edward Argar, MP for Charnwood and Minister of State for Health

“As we reach the anniversary of the first national lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is right we reflect on a year that no one could have predicted, but which has profoundly affected us all - individuals, families, and businesses. As Health Minister as well as Charnwood's local MP, it is also a year that will always be etched on my memory.

“As we do reflect upon this most challenging of times, and those who have tragically lost their lives to this disease, we should also remember the countless examples of the very best of humanity that we have seen – the unrivalled dedication of our fantastic key workers and NHS and care staff throughout the pandemic, and of our communities coming together to face the impact of this virus as one.

“We should never forget the huge sacrifice endured by individuals and businesses over the past year, and, despite the unprecedented support the Government has provided, I have seen in my casework every week the difficulties people have faced. But I sincerely hope the lasting legacy of the past year will not be of the pain and sacrifice endured, but rather the revitalised sense of community spirit in Charnwood, and right across the country, that has helped and inspired us all, showing the true strength of our towns, villages, and communities.

“As we see the fantastic pace of the vaccine roll-out programme which enables us to move ever closer towards the time, in a few short months, when the restrictions necessary to control transmission of the virus can be removed, I believe we can look forward to the positive future we all want to see with confidence."

Jane Hunt, MP for Loughborough

“We’ve been through an extremely turbulent year and my heart goes out to all of those who have suffered as a result of this pandemic.

“Sometimes the very worst of situations brings out the very best in people, and I have seen so many examples of this locally. Communities across the Loughborough constituency have pulled together in a collective effort to overcome the challenges the pandemic brought us.

"I am so very proud to represent the wonderful Team Loughborough in Parliament.”

Jo Maher, Principal and CEO of Loughborough College

“I could not be prouder of all our staff and students who have shown amazing resilience and patience throughout the pandemic. The entire College community has worked together to support each other and continued to follow the rules to keep everyone as safe as possible.  

“We experienced a huge period of change and faced several challenges, such as preparing and running a test centre, developing online enrolments and open days, all whilst delivering full live timetables online. We have also been open throughout the pandemic supporting the children of key workers and vulnerable students.

“We have tackled these challenges head-on and are pleased to continue to provide a safe and secure environment for all our learners.” 

Shamsu Ali, chair of the committee at Loughborough Central Mosque

“The Muslim community in Loughborough, like all communities, has been greatly affected by the pandemic. We are a close-knit community and the lockdown has affected everyone greatly.

"Not being able to attend the Mosque, a central hub for Muslims where worshippers will visit on a daily basis, has been tough, as well as being away from family and friends for a long period of time.

"However, this lockdown has brought about many acts of kindness that have helped us all get through this past year.

"And together with the help and support of Charnwood Borough Council, the police and our community, we will no doubt be able to help one another in the future.”

Paul Snape, Deputy Chief Officer, The Bridge (East Midlands) 

"In many ways, it has been a year like no other; not least due to the exceptional increase in demand that The Bridge has seen for its services. The difficulties we have worked through as an organisation are reflective of the issues that growing numbers of our communities face, as more local people find themselves in financial instability or housing difficulty. While we anticipate the effects of the last year to be enduring, we are dedicated to continuing our work in order to help people thrive in safe and secure homes.

“I am incredibly proud of what The Bridge has achieved in 2020, which marked our 25th anniversary. Despite closing our doors, our team dealt with 65 per cent more enquiries compared to 2019; created a free phone-line to ensure increased accessibility; we set up new a provision project to help children remain creative and engaged during lockdown and we remained committed to our rough sleeper outreach work and much more.

“Although presented with many challenges, organisations such as ourselves have continued to provide a lifeline for so many; I strongly believe this is testament to the voluntary sector’s resilience and ability to respond quickly, and I thank Charnwood Borough Council for their support and the on-going respect they have shown to the sector.

“As strategic lead for the Charnwood Food Poverty Group we have, over the last year, worked closely with the Council and John Storer Charnwood, to provide the Charnwood Community Action food provision service throughout the pandemic. I would like to offer special thanks to Verity Graham and Karen Frostick for their incredible partnership work on this project, which has supported thousands of local people facing food poverty.

“Lastly, The Bridge are particularly thankful for the ongoing support from the community, which has truly been the most inspiring part of the last twelve months; the backing of local people and generosity that has been shown towards our services has been incredible and, we believe, demonstrative of the strong and caring communities that we are part of.”  

Rachel Hall, Service Development Manager at Falcon Support Services

“Falcon Support Services has continued to provide supported accommodation and community projects during lockdown, remaining fully operational. Although it has been challenging, the organisation’s services have changed and adapted to provide Covid secure frontline support to those in need.

“Our staff team have shown incredible resilience and commitment assisting the homeless to access and maintain accommodation, working in partnership with Charnwood Borough Council’s Housing Team.

“Our drop-in service was key to providing frontline services and identifying rough sleepers to access the governments ‘Everyone In’ scheme. Many rough sleepers have long term health issues and working with Housing Needs and The Bridge to protect the most vulnerable in the pandemic has offered everyone the opportunity to access housing.”

Joe McSharry, Chair of Charnwood Food Poverty Group

“In a year that has seen so many suffer, it has been a source of encouragement and hope to see the response of local partners and community heroes to tackle food poverty in Charnwood. From the start of the pandemic and the initial lockdown, as some of our members had to close their food banks and food services, the Charnwood Food Poverty Group was inundated with volunteer offers from local residents who wanted to support the emergency response to food provision for individuals and families within our local community. We have been so proud of the generous and sacrificial responses from so many local legends.

“The success of the emergency food response could not have been achieved without a great deal of partnership work, in which the Charnwood Food Poverty Group contributed to the coordinated response of Charnwood Community Action. It has been a privilege to play our part in that work and see our own members persevere in delivering services. One of our greatest challenges has been the sheer size of the response required, the constant need to replenish food and the initial barriers to recipients being able to collect it. As we move into the recovery phase, we hope to initiate innovative and empowering ways to access food, working with residents to help them out of food poverty with a strong support network around them.

"The Charnwood Food Poverty Group would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed to the community efforts to tackle food poverty in the last year. There is much more work to be done, but together we are confident we can make a tangible difference in our communities.”

Peter Grainger, Chair of Shepshed Town Council

“On March 23 it has been a year since we have all been in lockdown. It has been a very trying and costly time for us all and tragically life-changing for too many.

"As Shepshed councillors, the biggest challenge has been our freedom being curtailed due to the pandemic, resulting in not being able to communicate face-to-face with the public and fellow councillors.

“Like many organisations, we have had to adapt and resort to the impersonal virtual " Zoom" meeting in order to continue with our work.

“What we have found most inspiring is the way the public of Shepshed have rallied round and pulled together to support each other in volunteering and assisting the vulnerable in our society.

“It has been gratifying to see that local shop keepers and businesses have complied with the Government health and safety guidelines in order to keep us all safe.

“We would particularly like to thank Forest House Surgery for their achievement of being the first health practice in Charnwood to administer the Covid vaccinations.

“We all feel eternally thankful and indebted to all our health service professionals for their work; especially during this crisis.

“Our hope for the future is that the people of Shepshed will continue with their support of our local shops and businesses so that our economy will continue to benefit after this pandemic is over.”

Ann Marshall, chair of Birstall Parish Council

“Community spirit and teamwork have been the two most important factors in getting Birstall residents through the national lockdowns.

“Groups, individuals and local businesses stepped up willingly to provide help and support to those who needed it.

“Led by our clerk and staff team, Birstall Parish Council made the necessary adjustments so that our Council could function as normal as possible, within government guidelines, and be available to assist Birstall residents and external partners when called upon.

“Our parish council got to grips with virtual meetings so that Council business could be continued.

“We are proud to say that in unprecedented circumstances, Birstall responded. Our fervent hope is that in 2021 life can return to some sort of normality and that we can come together to enjoy family and much-missed community events and activities.”

Dr Roger Brown, chair of Seagrave Parish Council

“Seagrave is a small village with few amenities.  During lockdown we lost all focal points in the village due to closure: the village hall, the church and the pub. 

“The school, of course, remained open for certain groups and the pub did a splendid job supplying takeaway meals, which continues to this day.  The village hall lost its income, vital for the maintenance and upkeep of the building but the grants available have gone a long way to help us through the crisis. 

“The major fundraising events, the summer fete and the Seagrave Wolds Challenge, were cancelled.  These events raise a considerable amount of money the majority of which has been donated to various charities over many years. 

“Therefore, the biggest losers are the charities we have supported and will continue to support when normality returns.  It is hoped we will be able to run these events this year.”

Hugh Asher, Chair of Barkby & Barkby Thorpe Parish Council

“During the Covid pandemic, Barkby & Barkby Thorpe Parish Council have recognised the increased level of community spirit in helping one another.

“A couple of parishioner mums set up a group called "BarkbyKindness" and this was about establishing a group of volunteers offering help of shopping, collecting medication, and even a friendly telephone call to stop social isolation. This group was received with tremendous appreciation in the village.

“It truly has been inspiring to observe the village pulling together, and what we can see is that even more so now, people are connecting with one and another in helping and supporting neighbours and those most in need.”

Sue Pritchard, chair of Newtown Linford Parish Council

“As we prepare to mark the one-year anniversary since the Government first imposed a national coronavirus lockdown, we are reflective of how our community has pulled together during this time of crisis.

“Following an appeal for volunteers in March 2020, a reassuring number of Newtown Linford residents came forward to offer help and support to anyone affected by the pandemic and in isolation. It was at this time, the Newtown Linford Community Action Response (CAR) was born.

“Volunteers continue to offer assistance to those in need by picking up shopping, collecting prescriptions, posting mail or for a friendly phone call. 

“Community spirit has shone throughout, despite the difficulties many have faced in their own lives over the past year and we are grateful to those who so kindly give their time to helping others through simple acts of kindness. We are proud to be part of such a caring and resilient community and we look forward to brighter times ahead.

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to all those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19.

“Newtown Linford Parish Council will be observing the one minute's silence at 12 noon on National Day of Reflection, March 23 2021.”

Penny Weston-Webb, chair of Cossington Parish Council

“We are planting a tree in memory of those who have passed away during the last year.

“A group are very busy doing a Neighbourhood Plan which has helped villagers get to know those they had not spoken to before and we are looking forward to resuming our social lives.

“And while we have missed face to face meetings we have got to know how to use Zoom."

Leicester Cathedral's virtual service

At 7pm on the 23rd, Leicester Cathedral will host a virtual service of music, readings and reflection. It will include representatives from NHS, councils, police as well as bereaved families.

More information about the service