FOR MANY the pandemic has been a difficult time, with businesses battling for survival and residents parted from loved ones.

But it has shown the resilience of communities who were spurred into action to help vulnerable residents. This week marks a year since the first national lockdown came into force across the country due to Covid-19.

On Tuesday, a minute’s silence was held for those who lost their lives in the pandemic.

On March 23, 2020, all non-essential retail was shut and people were ordered to only leave their homes to pick up essentials, for medical needs, to exercise once a day and to go to work if they could not work from home.

Harnessing community spirit

The pandemic galvanised community spirit across Fordingbridge and surrounding areas as locals rallied to do their bit to help vulnerable residents by forming support groups to deliver food and medication, as well as to provide other support to elderly and vulnerable people.

One of those groups was Fordingbridge: In Need, which was started on Facebook by resident Lydia Warren before the lockdown on March 15.

She said: “It is absolutely bonkers to think that the group delivered all that it did. There was no planning behind it. I am so incredibly proud of the town and all the people that rallied together.”

The support continued into the second lockdown. The group completed a total of 427 jobs supporting the community with tasks including food and medicine deliveries, wellbeing phone calls, working with other organisations as well as online social activities.

She says she was honoured to be part of the team of “incredible” volunteers, adding: “I can’t thank them enough. We couldn’t have done anything without every single one of them.”

“It was just one spark, one idea,” added Lydia. “You’ve seen that spark take and seen the difference it has made and that is so lovely to see.”

The impact of lockdown

Canon Gary Philbrick, Rector at Avon Valley Churches, said: “It seems to me that the lockdowns of the past year have divided us into two main groups – those who’ve been almost cut off from the world, and those who’ve been more engaged than ever.

“For many people, it has been the most lonely and stressful period of their lives, cut off from families and friends, having financial worries and feeling really alone. For many, especially in our churches, it’s been a time when we’ve discovered new media, learnt how to share our church life online, led services by Zoom and much more.

“Whichever road each one of us has been on, this year is going to take a long while to process – we need to be kind to ourselves and those around us, to support others and to ask for help ourselves if we need it.”

'It is a difficult situation but we are trying our hardest to get through it'

It has also been a challenging time for local businesses.

The George pub in Fordingbridge took the decision to close its doors on March 20, last year before the first lockdown was announced. In the beginning it was a struggle to get financial grant support until July but the furlough scheme did ensure it could pay staff.

Despite spells of opening when lockdowns eased, it has been shut for around eight-and-a-half months out of 12, which has added to the financial impact.

“It is really hard,” admits Caroline Roylance, who runs the pub. She is trying to remain positive and look at more ways to enhance its outside area for when it can reopen.

“It is a difficult situation but we are trying our hardest to get through it.”

More help will be needed for the hospitality industry, Caroline says, and a hospitality minister representing the industry was needed at government level.

“I am optimistic we will survive but I don’t know how hard it is going to be and what we are going to have to change and other things we are going to have to do to survive.”

A 'devastating' year for retail

Sian Currie, who runs Luxury Bubble in High Street, said it has been “horrendous” and the latest lockdown has been hard. She added: “Trying to hold on to a business which has been closed is difficult sometimes.”

But one of the positives has been the setting up an online presence. She said although it has been a “devastating year” for retail she was remaining positive and “hanging in there” and looking ahead to reopening. She hopes people will be encouraged to support independents.

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