North-east business leaders, charities and politicians have reflected on the past year as today marks the one year anniversary of the UK entering lockdown.
On March 23 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation on the coronavirus pandemic, stating that it was “the biggest threat the country has faced for decades”, telling people to stay at home except for essential reasons.
Since then, the impact of the pandemic has continued to be seen across the country, as well as in the north-east, which was also been impacted by the downturn of oil and gas.
Aberdeen also felt the hit of a localised lockdown in August, which shut businesses across the city again when premises in other parts of Scotland remained open.
Universal credit applications have continued to rise with more than 100% rises seen on the previous year each month, however the community spirit of those living in the region has shown the vast numbers of people willing to help out those around them.
Data up to yesterday, March 22 2021, shows that there have been 14,043 positive cases within the NHS Grampian area since reporting began last year.
While NHS Grampian’s total of positive cases rose by 25 in the past day.
There were 11 cases in Aberdeen, nine in Aberdeenshire and five in Moray.
On this day last year, there had been only 24 confirmed positive cases of Covid-19 in the north-east.
To mark the one year anniversary of lockdown, business leaders, charities and politicians have spoken of the impact the pandemic has had on the north-east.
Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said: “This has been an incredibly tough year for the business community with many firms in some key sectors such as retail, tourism and hospitality simply unable to survive the sustained financial challenge they have faced.
“The chamber network has fought hard at both Scottish and UK government levels to make sure the voice of local business was heard by decision makers, with securing support such as the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the creation of the Recovery Loan Scheme, extended business rates relief and increased cash grants providing a lifeline to protect against many more business closures and job losses.
“No-one could have anticipated that 12 months on our economy would still be in lockdown. While the rollout of the vaccine and the provisional dates providing clarity around the path ahead giving some hope, as business begin to reopen there is a role for all of us to play in helping local firms get back on their feet quickly by choosing to shop and support local in the weeks and months ahead.
“As government continues to focus on ‘data, not dates’ we must emphasise the need to accelerate this timeline wherever possible, including the further relaxation of restrictions.
“Rather than only looking to ease restrictions on a national basis, government should consider whether the levels system could allow for an accelerated easing in regions like the north-east if cases remain low.”
Charities have also seen the impact of the pandemic, after many lost funding from events being cancelled, coupled with an increased demand for services due to lockdown and the challenges it has brought.
Director of external relations Jennifer Mitchell at VSA said: “At VSA, we support vulnerable children and adults across the north-east so we were actively monitoring the situation from January last year. We quickly implemented our enhanced infection prevention and control protocols ahead of Government advice, a conscious decision we believe saved lives.”
“Guidance around safety protocols as we all know can change rapidly, and our staff has worked tirelessly this year to keep each other and all the vulnerable people we support safe and well.”
“We have also seen demand soar across our services, with people looking for support especially with their mental health due to the additional pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“At VSA, we are committed to investing in mental health services and have a brand-new mental wellbeing facility opening later this year in Aberdeen city. The facility will provide vital support to people living with a range of mental health conditions, and now more than ever it is vital that we make this facility a reality.”
Inspire PLT, which supports adults with learning disabilities across several areas in the north-east, echoed praise for frontline workers, who have continued to work face-to-face with those it supports during lockdown.
Chief executive Linda Gray, said: “For us, because the people we support have learning difficulties, we went into lockdown for our services a few weeks early.
“We thought it would be three or four weeks, but it’s now been over 52.
“There’s been lots of things that have happened over the past year. Before, we used to host lots of events in the boulevard office. We managed to get some external funding to be able for those we support to be able to stay in communication with their loved ones.
“We’ve been putting on more activities, there’s about two or three every day, from bingo to Zumba, coffee and chats and keep fit, there’s been lots of different options for people. There’s also been one-to-one support for people who might want to build up their confidence before taking part. We also have a Makaton choir, that’s proved really popular.”
She added: “The staff have been absolutely tremendous, they’ve adapted to change and challenges, everybody’s just been amazing.
“If nothing else, social care’s value has stepped up the past 12 months.
“We took a really cautious approach to covid, which we might have been criticised for, but we wanted to make sure people we support and staff are safe.”
Louise Andrew, CEO of children’s charity Charlie House, added that lockdown has brought its own unique challenges, however it has continued to provide support to those who need it.
She said: “The last 12 months have been incredibly challenging, both for the families we support and for Charlie House itself. The complexity of the medical conditions of many children we support mean that they and their families were the first to go into lockdown and will be among the last to leave it, putting enormous pressure on them. It should be no surprise that we saw an increase in support requests, but the scale is quite incredible with an 84% increase in support against a 70% drop in income.
“Looking back over the last year I am really proud of what the Charlie House team has achieved. More of less overnight we switched our care model from hands on to virtual to ensure families continued to get the support they needed. We looked very carefully at key needs and put in place creative solutions to meet them.
“While there is a form of comfort from holding a hand or getting a hug that can’t be replaced, virtual platforms have allowed us to bring together people from a much wider geographic area, helping people make more connections and allowing them to do that around feeding and medication schedules which can make travel to activities challenging. The feedback has been amazing and there are elements of this work that will become part of our programme going forward.
“At the same time the restrictions caused us to rethink how we raise funds, exploring lots of new avenues including an online shop, the Christmas Market in partnership with Bon Accord and Aberdeen Inspired, the Cheers to Charlie Event with Boozy Events, our recent online auction with lots more to come.
“Undoubtedly it has been a difficult year but I think we are coming out of it as a stronger organisation. All of this has been made possible by the tremendous support of the people of the North East whose generosity never fails to surprise us.”
Meanwhile, MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Andrew Bowie said that despite the virus and its impact, there was a cause for optimism for the future.
He said: “The virus has caused untold heartbreak for families across the world.
“And the past 365 days have seen more angst, loneliness and frustration than anyone could ever expect a single year to hold.
“We’ve all given up so much in the effort to save lives and reduce hospital admissions.
“Now, there is cause for optimism as the UK’s vaccine programme has rolled out to the most vulnerable people in our society, and is working its way towards full coverage.
“The ray of light that offers is hard won, but fragile, as the slight increase in case numbers over the last few days will attest.”
Richard Thomson, MP for Gordon, added: “This has been an extremely challenging year which has tested all of us in ways we could hardly have imagined 12 months ago. My thoughts go to those who have lost their lives to Covid-19 and to the friends and families that they have left behind.
“If the last year has taught us anything, it is surely to value our relationships with others; to value the quality of life that each of us is able to live, and to understand better the many inequalities that the pandemic has exposed in society.
“Progress with vaccinations offers real hope. However, we must ensure that after the worst of the pandemic is past, we can find a better, fairer and more sustainable way to live our lives, so that we might build a society that properly values the people and the activities that enrich our own lives and those of others.”
A minute’s silence and a national doorstep vigil is planned to be held as a day of reflection to mark the anniversary.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed charity Marie Curie’s plan, which aims to remember those who have died from Covid-19 in the past year.
It involves holding a minute’s silence at noon, with people then encouraged to light up their doorsteps at night.
Lord Provost of Aberdeenshire Councillor Bill Howatson recommended that people use the anniversary as a time to reflect on the past year, and think of all the loved ones who have been lost.
He said: “This year has been overwhelming for so many of us. Losing family or loved ones is always hard but losing them in the pandemic will leave scars that will take a long time to heal. The sadness of not being able to hold the hand of someone you love in their final hours is unbearable, and that makes it more important than ever to take time to stop and think.
“I encourage people who have been bereaved to use this opportunity to think back with fondness on those we have lost. I also would urge everyone to take time to reflect on the sacrifices made by others in this challenging time.
“It is important to take part in this day and pass on the thoughts of everyone in Aberdeenshire Council to those bereaved over the past 12 months.”