After months of strict lockdown and an intensive vaccination campaign in the United Kingdom, Britons are starting to get back to an almost normal way of life. Restaurants are welcoming customers back and hairdressers and shops are reopening. Simon Grainge, Chief Executive of Emmaus UK, tells us about the reopening of the Emmaus shops and the issues involved.
In the UK, we are finally emerging from a lockdown that was imposed just after Christmas. This felt different to previous lockdowns because it has been in the midst ofwinter so the weather and the short days have been really difficult to cope with. In the communities, people went into hibernation waiting for the Spring to come and hoping for the best. The pandemic has hit the UK hard and we have the highest deathrate in Europe but we also had a very effective vaccination campaign that has increased optimism about the future. All companions have been offered the vaccine and there have been fewer outbreaks of the virus in the communities because we have all become used to masks, handwashing and keeping our distance.
Many companions at communities have busied themselves with doing repairs, decorating, gardening, completing training courses or selling things online. This has helped to keep the boredom at bay and got some of those jobs done that have been waiting for years. Some communities have increased their solidarity activities over the past year. Those that run foodbanks increased their support to local households faced with financial hardship.
On April 12th, the government gave permission to relax the lockdown including the opening of our shops again. The sun was shining and everywhere you could see people cautiously emerging from where they had been spending the winter. The effects of the lockdown are difficult to predict but people will have to learn how to socialise again. After months of staying indoors only communicating through video meetings and social media whilst being bombarded with catastrophic news, it will be difficult meeting people face-to-face and carrying on normal conversations. It feels as though our society is changing profoundly and nobody knows how it will all end. There is much talk about the psychological effects of the pandemic and dire predictions of a tsunami of mental health problems. Personally, I have more confidence in our ability to survive all these things but it is clear that not everyone has suffered equally. There are foodbanks everywhere and many families living in fear of eviction. The next few years are going to be hard for many people. Hopefully Emmaus can continue to support people in their time of need and find new ways help even more people as we emerge from the pandemic or adjust to the new normal.