In 1992, Her Majesty referred to her ‘annus horribilis’, and this past year has been another, but on a national scale. Many will have lost loved ones to either the direct or indirect effects of the epidemic, and our sympathies go out to them all. We have not been able – communally – to enjoy or to display our excellent town because events run by the Town Council or our partner bodies, such as the Community Association, have fallen by the wayside: Gala Day, Picnic in the Park, Bonfire Night, the Civic Service, Remembrance Day and – most recently – the Christmas Market. Even those events which were planned within the limitations of social-distancing – such as an Outdoor Cinema or the Circus – had to be cancelled when we could not guarantee public safety.
That said, once we got our heads around the initial Lockdown, it is remarkable what we have achieved. The creation of a town-wide support network which delivered well over 2000 individual acts of help and kindness won us plaudits from Cambridge County Council – well done to the Community Timebank, the Godmanchester Foodbank, and the Mutual Aid Support Group. On an operational level the Coronavirus Act 2020, which came into effect on 25 March, allowed local councils to hold meetings remotely, and thus we suddenly became experts in using Zoom, Teams and other electronic platforms to facilitate and progress our business. And there has been much business. All your councillors, assisted by the Town Clerk and her staff, have frankly been busier than ever.
There has been no let-up in the number of Planning applications which have required scrutiny and consultation, particularly with regard to ensuring that new building developments meet requisite standards, as we look towards a zero-carbon future. The Environment Portfolio – aided by voluntary groups – have maintained and improved our open spaces; dozens of new trees have been planted, play equipment has been upgraded (and now includes adult exercise items), historical bathing steps have been uncovered – and there are exciting plans to improve access and play facilities on the Rec. The Property Portfolio, which had recently overseen the refurbishment of both Queen Elizabeth School and the Judith’s Field Pavilion, is now working to further improve facilities for families at that latter site with a new public toilet and extra Fun Track provision. The Business Portfolio has – perhaps – had the hardest task in reacting and interpreting ever-changing Government guidelines as to how life and business can be managed coherently while social cohesion is banned. Meanwhile, we have added the Community Nursery to the town’s assets, and are developing this with the aid of our new Manager aided, during lockdown, by the Town Wardens.
The future remains uncertain. While there are now hopes of an effective vaccine, there are considerable logistic challenges to manufacture, distribute and treat our entire population – twice – and to restore economic and social life to a degree of normality. Moreover, many changes to working practices introduced by the pandemic are likely to remain after the dangers have gone. At the end of the year we are due to sever our links with the EU and, whether you love or hate Brexit, there will be major changes in our trading status in the world.
But I am not downcast. These last 9 months have demonstrated that our community is resilient, resourceful and caring. Major problems have been overcome, and the town has drawn together to help those most at risk. Projects have been initiated as well as being progressed. As life ‘returns to normal’, let us not lose these positives, while capitalising on and enjoying anew the traditional freedoms that will return. By comparison, next year should be an annus mirabilis.