The pandemic has, of course, been harder than anyone could have predicted. Many of us have lost loved ones or have had COVID-19 ourselves; many have lost work or income because shops, restaurants, pubs and many businesses have been forced to close their doors; and schools have been shut, causing many to miss out on education. Everyone has been confined to their homes, unable to see friends or family for months.
But at least one positive thing could come from this extremely challenging time. Given that people have been unable to travel, are commuting less frequently, or simply have more time on their hands, many of us are spending more time exploring our neighbourhoods. With a young child of my own, I’ve spent more time getting to know Catford’s parks, have discovered corners I didn’t know existed, and have appreciated them more than ever. I’ve also relied on our fantastic local businesses.
Our community has come together to look after those most in need: for example, local food banks have provided a vital service, volunteers across the borough are helping provide lifts for people to get to vaccine appointments, and services like Catbytes, which refurbishes laptops for local school kids, have shown the best that this community has to offer.
However, there are also facilities we’ve all missed. As well as our local pubs, restaurants and hairdressers, a lot of community facilities and events have been forced to close. Our local libraries and sports facilities have been shut, and events like the Catford Food Market and Lewisham People’s Day have not taken place. As a member of Kent AC, the local running club that trains at Ladywell Arena, I’ve particularly missed our local running track, and can’t wait for the free weekly parkruns to restart at Mountsfield Park and Hilly Fields. Research has made very clear that there are huge mental and physical health benefits to being active, and that’s something we should promote locally.
Even though Tory central government cuts and the economic effects of the pandemic have put unprecedented pressure on local councils up and down the country, including Lewisham – we need to ensure that we use the recovery to improve our local spaces, to make them accessible for all, and that we understand their vital importance to our community.
Lewisham’s Labour Council has already brought in positive changes; for example, the establishment of School Streets, closing roads at school drop-off and pick-up times to reduce traffic and pollution. The idea of a ‘15-minute city’ – where people have everything they need within 15 minutes of their home – may previously have seemed like a desirable but unrealistic aim. But I passionately believe we can make it a reality here – Catford already has so much going for it, and with the right investment and the community spirit we’ve already shown, Catford can be that better place.