One year on

17 March 2021

One year after moving into lockdown, our CEO Ewan Aitken reflects on the past year, and the task for us ahead:

“It will be fine”, I said to my wife. There’s no way this will last to October. We’ll get our holiday to Italy”. This was a year ago, just after 16th March 2020, the day I had taken the decision to move Cyrenians into lockdown. We knew lockdown was coming and there seemed little to be gained in waiting for the official announcement. In fact, given the enormity of the task, the quicker we moved, the sooner we’d learn how to do something none of us really knew how to do. I have spent a lifetime “winging it” but nothing had prepared me for what was to come, not least of which how long it would last.

This is an anniversary I don’t want to celebrate but I cannot let go by without a reflection on what it means to have lived through a global pandemic for the last year which has impacted every country in the world and is not yet over.

What has this experience taught us? It has certainly reminded us as human beings to be a bit humbler about our significance on the planet. In exposing our fragility, Covid 19 had shown very clearly, we are not in charge. This planet is not ours to rule or to plunder. A bit more respect for nature would be wise. I don’t mean just the natural environment but the extraordinary ecosystems, deeply interconnected, which are the beating heart of all living things. Humanity has been brought to its knees by micro-organisms invisible to the naked eye, which were introduced into our ecosystem because we, in some form or other, as yet unclear, disrupted other ecosystems with our belief we alone matter and our needs over-ride those of other living things.

The same fundamental need for interconnectedness has also been our salvation, where we have let it blossom.  We have re-learnt the power of community, or looking after the stranger as we would want to be looked after, and how collaboration trumps competition in a crisis and in most other situations in life as well. Again and again we have seen people go the second mile, turn their problem into an opportunity for others and seek to give of what they have rather than keep it for themselves. Sure, we started with scuffles over loo rolls and shock at empty supermarket shelves, but it soon gave way to community and sharing and the power of social connectedness.

We have seen how successful leadership in a crisis, political and otherwise, rises above ideological division, listens to expert advice, prioritises a nation’s health over other demands, communicates clearly and leads by example.

For many this experience has been hellish. We know domestic violence has gone through the roof.  For all teachers did an amazing job, there are significant numbers of young people, especially those already facing poverty and other barriers to engaging in education who have lost a year’s opportunity and may never recover. Unemployment is growing and amongst young people even more so. Families with someone who is ill, or in a care home or in prison have been unable to be in each other presence, such a vital part of maintaining relationships and feeling well. Those who have lost a loved one have been unable to mark their passing with the funeral they would have wanted and their grief has been impacted as a result.

For them and the many others whose circumstances have meant the pandemic has exacerbated struggles they were already coping with, coming out the side to a post Covid world may not be the liberation many others feel it will. How we care for these folks will be the mark of our nation as much as how we coped when the pandemic was happening. The first good sign is that this pandemic has made talking about our mental health become normalised and with much less stigma attached - which has to be a good thing, because we are going to need that kind of space to be honest if we are to every get through the fallout from the pandemic.

It has been a very tough year for my Cyrenians colleagues as it has for so many others. They have utterly stepped up in the most amazing ay. They have kept every single one of our services going almost without exception. They have innovated, pivoted, blended, created hybrid models, adapted and every other thing needed to make sure those we journey with knew we were still with them. They have lived our values and I am proud to be their colleague.

If we are to honour how so many have given in this last year and how hard it has been for so many others, we cannot ever forget. I don’t really like the ‘build back better’ slogan, despite its good alliteration. It’s forward I want to look, not back. To a world which has learnt co-operation works better than everyone-for-themselves. Where treating others as we would want to be treated isn’t just a mantra for a crisis. Where compassion, dignity and empathy drive our decisions about how we use our resources for those in tough realities. Where talking about our mental health is as normal as discussing any other aspect of our wellbeing. Where being cognisant of how humanity is just one small part of nature’s many interconnected ecosystems leads us to take care of this planet and its environment. This is a world that we’ve in no small part proven to be eminently possible, and that we can, and indeed must, build.