Cumbria has been battered and bruised. We have recorded some of the highest incidences of the virus in the country, our health and care workers continue to be amazing and residential care homes have become a second frontline for the response. Charities providing care services have battled for PPE to keep their staff safe. My thoughts and deepest sympathy lie with families and friends of the people who have died.
Amongst the sadness and grief, Cumbrians continue to show themselves at their best; volunteering and being good neighbours, delivering groceries and medicines and providing emotional support to the vulnerable and self-isolating. Because so many people will choose to continue to self-isolate, we know this need may continue into 2021.
People and business owners continue to be generous, donating time, equipment and money. The Community Foundation’s grants committee has continued to meet weekly and has awarded more than £940,00 to more than 120 charitable projects across Cumbria, helping vulnerable people affected by the coronavirus. I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed to the £1.3M Covid-19 Response Fund total. I’d also like to mention a few including BAE, Booths, Iggesund, Lakeland and Red Bank Coffee. Other large employers have encouraged furloughed staff to volunteer and businesses like Sellafield Ltd have lent logistical support alongside much needed funding to the community hubs in West Cumbria.
For many families, the economic challenges of COVID-19 have pushed people into hardship they’ve never experienced before. Sadly, for too many people, living one pay cheque away from trouble is a reality. Foodbanks, food pantries, charities and community emergency response groups are all involved in providing meals, food parcels and essential support to families in need.
Sadly, reports from the Royal Society for Arts and Manufacture and the Social Investment Bank suggest that Cumbria is likely to be one of the areas that is economically worst hit. The Cumbria LEP is doing a great job to promote businesses working safely and encouraging businesses to work as much as they can whilst maintaining safe working and social distancing.
Thoughts are now turning to the future and how we build a better way of living and working after Covid-19. There is much to celebrate and build on. We’ve seen inspirational leadership and kindness and energy in all of our communities and organisations. We’ve also found new ways of working: technological innovations that might have taken years to adopt have been brought into use within days.
I’m a member of the Cumbria Recovery Action Group which is beginning to have conversations about how we best move forward from here. Many of us have challenged the word ‘Recovery’: it suggests returning to the place we were before Covid-19. I think the crisis provides an opportunity to renew and create a different way of being.
I hope the people who have stepped up in towns and villages will begin to talk with their employers and the local councils and describe how they want to live and work with their neighbours. Cumbria had plenty of challenges before Covid-19 and many have been made worse by it. If we can build on the new connections and self-belief generated in communities through the crisis then Cumbria has a bright future.