Remember Narnia, where it was always winter and never Christmas? Then the White Witch was defeated and the whole world bustled back to life, full of the joys of spring.
That’s how yesterday’s reawakening of our high streets felt, after twelve ghost-town weeks of lockdown.
It felt like the first day of the rest of our lives.
City and town teams across the county had planned and prepped and risk-assessed exhaustively, and while there was the odd glitch, overall the day went brilliantly, with shoppers respecting each other’s space, and following guidance from stewards and queue-managers.
Out and about in Peterborough, I was hugely impressed. After all, there’s no manual for this. There are no signposts in the sea. We’re learning all the time from other countries, other cities, other situations, trying to apply the knowledge quickly and effectively. And it wasn’t intended as a one-day-wonder, only as Day One of what I hope is a steady process of recovery.
Yesterday was never solely about trade, it was more about the trade-off that is the ‘new normal’. So long as we stay virus-aware, respect the risk, take care of others and ourselves, we can have a tweaked version of our old life back.
It’s a workaround – but with benefits. C-19 has actually taught us a lot about what we value, and how we want to live in the future. We’ve rediscovered the virtue and pleasure of breathing cleaner air, of sleeping without midnight traffic thundering past, and of supporting our communities by helping our neighbours and by shopping locally.
Coined a few years back by the UN for disaster relief, “Build back better” is increasingly the buzz of the zeitgeist. In Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, for example, we’re asking our Market Towns to come up with ideas to add resilience and sustainability to their masterplans for the post-Covid tomorrow.
We’ve seen the future, and it is green.
Less about cars and more about community. Less about the workplace, more about the work and the workers. Less about getting to work, more about doing it – wherever suits best.
To deliver alternatives to those fuming traffic jams of old, we must transform life, not just tinker with the edges. Push forward ever more decisively with green innovations like the CAM metro which will join up homes people can afford with jobs they want. Create a purposeful network of footpaths and cycleways, for going places, not just for rambling, ambling and gambolling! Deliver the all-important digital connectivity that will ramp up social inclusion and let people work productively anywhere.
So yesterday was a fantastic comeback for our traders who desperately need to recoup the hand-over-fist losses of the past months, but it was also a day about co-operation and courtesy, about the sheer community-spirited heft and graft that has gone into pulling the region through this first phase of Covid recovery.
And to me, it’s also the beginning of a more collective effort to move forward boldly and build back better. We are one county and I believe the Covid-19 emergency has shown that levelling up our communities is imperative – investing, innovating, driving development so that nobody is left behind, and we don’t just recover from the impact of Covid, we use it to reinvent our community, review our values, and rediscover ourselves.