This year will be a festive period like no other. Many local residents will be celebrating virtually, coming together with family, friends and loved ones in spirit rather than in person; colleagues will be swapping the big gatherings and office parties for catch-ups over Zoom. The Government have announced that there will be a relaxation to restrictions to enable gatherings on Christmas Day. Although it’s only natural that families will want to spend time together and celebrate after this hugely difficult year, we should all be mindful that Covid hasn’t gone away and make sure that the decisions we take when it comes to seeing older relatives and those with underlying health conditions bear that risk in mind. It’s especially important that we all keep on doing the basics right: observing social distancing, washing hands, self-isolating and getting tested if symptoms develop. The very last thing we need is a disastrous third wave in January, further endangering lives and livelihoods, right at the moment that a vaccine is being rolled out.
There’s no doubt that 2020 has been the longest and most difficult of years for our local communities. Every family has been touched by Covid, whether through the challenge of lockdown and self-isolation; struggling to make ends meet because of the impact of Covid on our businesses and wider economy; serving as a key worker on the front-line of the struggle against the disease; or losing a loved one before their time. I think it is safe to say that the memories of 2020, when we look back in years to come, will be forever tinged with a sense of sadness and that this festive period will be bittersweet for so many local Barnsley families.
However, despite the gloom and difficulty this year has brought, it has also brought out the best of our coalfield community spirit. Volunteers who brought shopping, medicine and vital supplies for family friends or neighbours who were shielding. Befrienders who took a little time out of their day to support a stranger who was living alone and feeling low. The community groups who put their shoulders to the wheel to supply cooked dinners or assist with the production of life-saving personal protective equipment. The businesses who, despite facing the toughest financial circumstances in living memory, did their bit to give a bit back to the community. We can be optimistic that that life will return to a sense of normality next year, with an effective, reliable and safe vaccine rolled out to all those who need it, but that means retaining the silver linings from the clouds of 2020. I know that we all want to forget the pain and difficulty of this year, but I hope that we retain that enduring sense of community spirit – whether that’s checking on a neighbour in need or treasuring a cup of tea and a chat with a friend.
As 2020 draws to a close, I would like to once again take the opportunity to offer my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all of our key workers who have saved the lives of the vulnerable and kept our communities moving in these most difficult of circumstances. To the healthcare workers, social care staff, local authority workers, cleaners, postal workers, emergency service personnel and so many more besides – thank you. I sincerely hope that everyone in Barnsley and South Yorkshire has a happy and healthy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.