Damian Hinds: Some Covid change will remain with us

By Richard Millard   |   Leader, East Hampshire District Council, and councillor for Headley   |
Tuesday 2nd June 2020 12:10 pm
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How many serious meetings have been interrupted by an oblivious child? ()

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MOST of the changes we’ve been living with will hopefully be temporary – but some look to be with us for the long haul, and some we should welcome.

Sykpe and Zoom now seem surprisingly normal, even if they took some getting used to.

But parliament by video conference has been a faint shadow of its former self. We have made a reasonable go of select committees, but questioning witnesses just doesn’t work as well.

But many other functions have been fine, and I have been able to carry on constituency surgeries by phone.

Necessity has meant finding new ways to work remotely, and home working has become the norm for millions.

This enforced change will also force companies to think about more flexible and home working in future; that is good for opportunity, for productivity and the environment.

That’s big news for an area like ours with a lot of commuters.

Time saved from travel can be time for other things – after years seemingly of work encroaching more and more on home life, home life has fought back.

How many serious meetings have been interrupted by an oblivious child? Recognising the balance of people’s work and family responsibilities can only be a positive thing.

Along with home working has been home schooling. I think it has made us all even more aware just how much teachers do.

The virus is prompting fresh thinking on transport.

The recent announcement for greener, active transport has meant we are seeing pop-up bike lanes, and more work will be done creating wider pavements and safer junctions, with trials of rental e-scooters also being brought forward and expanded.

Hampshire County Council has been allocated just over £4.3m from the Emergency Active Travel Fund to support this work.

It is developing plans to encourage more walking and cycling in the county; the council is set to launch a Safe Streets consultation this week, seeking input on those plans.

With fewer people on the move, the impact on the natural world has been marked.

Scientists worldwide are gathering unique data that will help progress important debates on pollution and air quality.

Researchers have even reported a reduction in the world’s seismic noise – the collective hum of our vibrations – and are now measuring earthquake activity previously impossible to detect.

Staying at or close to home has brought a fresh appreciation of local businesses and produce.

Sourcing fruit, veg and meat locally has not only provided important support for our local economy, but also reminded us about ‘food miles’ and seasonality of produce.

East Hampshire must have some of the most thriving and varied local food on offer and I’m sure more people will be taking advantage of it.

Covid-19 has been, as we all know, devastating for many businesses, and we know the recovery, too, is set to be tough. But many local East Hampshire businesses that were able to adapt have done so, and in very short order.

Dozens of local firms now offer delivery of food and other essentials (see www.delivereasthants.info) and I dare say some will after the crisis has passed, too.

That Covid-19 has changed our lives in the short term is very clear, and it has been truly devastating for thousands of families who have lost loved ones.

It remains tough for families still unable to see each other, for those unable to work as their businesses are closed, for parents juggling work, education and everything else, and for children yet unable to see friends or return to school.

Despite passing the peak, the impact on the NHS and other health services is still leaving its mark on the amazingly-dedicated staff who treat the thousands in hospitals and care homes across the country.

How Covid-19 changes our lives in the longer term is less clear.

We know the use of technology has been accelerated and will enhance much of what we do, including how we work, learn and even how we ‘go to see’ the GP.

We hope new online connections made with family and friends will endure, and the take-up in cycling and walking stays with us.

How our ‘new normal’ evolves will depend as much upon Covid-19 as it will our response to it and the choices we make.

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