Newport reflects on a year of coronavirus

One year on from coronavirus coming to British shores, people in Newport have been reflecting on a desperately sad 12 months – albeit one where people have found comfort in communal support.

Next Tuesday, March 23, will mark the first anniversary of England's first full coronavirus lockdown, which saw public and private life change completely almost overnight.

Now, as the country prepares to leave its third lockdown, people in Newport hope that this one will be the last, and that life can soon return to some kind of normal.

Silvia Catterall, 63, works as a carer at Bank House in the town.

She hails originally from Dortmund in Germany but has lived in the UK for the past 30-odd years, and in Newport for the past three.

She has seen first-hand the devastation the virus has wrought on many families.

"I work in a residential home so I've seen a lot of upset people who can't see their relatives.

"It's been a lot of extra work but we don't mind. It's been a tough year for everybody, people being out of jobs.

"I've had my first vaccination, with being a care worker – it gives me peace of mind."

She admitted that she has stopped watching the news because it is "so depressing", and waits for information first-hand from her colleagues in the care industry.

But she talks regularly with her family back home in Germany, one of several European countries to have suspended use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine over potential health concerns.

Despite that confusion, she said that things are progressing "exactly the same" as here in England.

"I just hope that the next year is going to be a better one for everyone.

"It's upsetting seeing how many people are out of work. I just hope it will be very different next year."

St Mary's Street is home to many of Newport's shops

Darren Wood runs the New Inn in Newport, and is looking forward to reopening as soon as restrictions allow.

One unexpectedly positive side effect of the pandemic, he said, was that people were more willing to open up about their worries and "share their burdens".

"That is one thing that I hope continues," he said.

"I would say it's been a rollercoaster of emotions. You have your ups and your downs, your positive moments and your less positive moments."

He has barely been able to trade for the last 12 months, hanging on to post-lockdown hopes like so many landlords around the country.

"The business point of view, you're looking at the cliff-edge all the time. You're waiting for every announcement and Government [policy].

"It's been a long year and one thing is just hoping you see some big chinks of light at the end of the tunnel."

Since the Government's 'road map' out of lockdown was announced, he has started work on paving the outdoor section of the pub in hopes of capitalising once outdoor seating is allowed (from April 12 at the earliest, the Prime Minister has said).

When Boris Johnson announced a year ago that businesses and schools were to shut, not many people could have predicted that England would be in lockdown again 12 months down the line.

Mr Wood said: "I think the majority of us would have said it would have been two or three weeks of being affected, not 12 months down the line still being affected.

"More importantly, I think the recovery of the UK economy is going to take a lot longer.

"Everyone has had to adapt – lots of people working from home, lots of people not working, being furloughed."

He said that another year from now, things may still not be back to the 'old normal' – and in fact they might never.

Masks and social distancing could be regular practice for a long time to come, and elderly people might feel more reluctant to get out and about, he said.

"Will the new normal be the new normal? Will things ever get back to the old normal? I'm not sure they will."

Sam Montford opened Munchies in November

A number of people took the brave step of launching new businesses in Newport over the last year, among them the Novella craft beer and cocktail bar in the town's old Barclays branch.

Partners Matt Lorenz and Marie Lyley opened in early October and they were able to build up a steady customer base before the second lockdown began and shut the industry down again.

And Sam Montford, 26, took the plunge of opening Munchies off Baddeley Court in November, serving carnival-style food including hot dogs and waffles.

She said that Newport's tradition of supporting new businesses had helped her passion project survive so far.

She is a qualified substitute teacher but struggled to find work through successive lockdowns, and when the opportunity to take on the lease at Baddeley Court came up in November she decided to try and realise her long-standing dream of opening up an American-style eatery.

"When you've got an opportunity like that you've got to act on it.

"Newport is amazing, they've got the best community spirit I've ever known.

"My first day there were massive queues that I was not planning for. They wanted to come and support me.

"I don't think I could have made it in any other place."

St Mary's Street is home to many of Newport's shops

That was in November, and within weeks England would enter its second coronavirus lockdown.

"I managed to make enough to get me through January, although it was really tough.

"I think it's really important for people to support local businesses through this because they are really struggling."

She said that she hopes the reopening of business in the coming weeks will mean more trade for her, though she admitted "it could go either way".

Shops and schools being open again could mean more passing trade for small street-side businesses like hers, though the availability of restaurants could also draw customers away.

Whatever happens next, people are at least beginning to hope for the future again after a year nobody will ever forget.

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