National Day of Reflection: How pandemic changed Luton life over 12 months
Luton will today pause for a National Day of Reflection exactly 12 months after the first coronavirus lockdown came into effect.
Today (Tuesday), the town hall will be lit in yellow and a minute's silence will be observed at 12pm.
Then at 8pm, residents will be encouraged to stand at their doorsteps and shine lights in memory of over 126,000 people across the country who have died after contracting the virus.
It was on March 23 last year that Britain entered legally-binding Covid-19 restrictions for the first time - marking one of the biggest social upheavals since the Second World War.
On the day lockdown began, Luton had 91 confirmed infections.
Since then, the borough's cases have risen to 19,684 with at least 490 deaths, according to Public Health England.
Among those who sadly died was pregnant L&D Hospital nurse Mary Agyapong, 28, whose inquest begins today (Tuesday).
The pandemic brought out the best in many people.
Among Luton's triumphs was its community spirit; the founding of a local Covid-19 action group, local businesses vowing to fulfil free school meals at half-term, the success of the local track and trace programme, testing and vaccination centres and the professionalism of the NHS, Beds Police and charities.
But some others took advantage of the situation.
Trading Standards investigated allegations of price hikes in some shops during panic buying in March 2020.
The hard sacrifices of many people were made a mockery by others openly flouting the rules. A wedding party of over 100 people on Selbourne Road was disbanded by police in September last year, while another wedding held later that month in Park Street landed the venue with a £10,000 fine and closure order.
The attendance of three Labour Luton councillors at a garden party, and the decision to impose no sanctions against them, also caused anger among the public.
Economically, the town has been hardest hit by the loss of revenue from Luton Airport, estimated at £70m in real terms by the council's finance chief. Although airport passenger numbers are expected to recover by 2023, the loss of airport dividends led to "painful" cuts of £22m to frontline services in last year's July budget.
Luton Borough Council leader, Cllr Hazel Simmons said: “The past year has been incredibly traumatic and challenging for the people of Luton along with rest of the UK. So many people have lost loved ones and have been denied the chance to pay tribute and say goodbye in a way they would have wanted.
”This National Day of Reflection is an opportunity not to just look back over the past year but to look forward with the hope of better things to come. The people of Luton, as ever, have shown incredible resilience in such times of adversity and they have been magnificent in supporting their own communities, especially those who are vulnerable or in need.
“Please join me in taking out a few moments of your day to reflect upon the past year and to focus ahead in building for the future and ensuring that Luton comes out of this dark period, stronger and more prosperous than before.”
Colette McKeaveney, chief executive of Age Concern Luton, said: "It still feels a bit too early for reflection; we are very busy with thousands of elderly clients and trying to make sense of this strange 'new normal'.
"I’m incredibly sad to have lost so many wonderful people in the last year and they are much missed by us all.
"However, I’m also extremely grateful to everyone who worked so hard to care for the many more older folk who had to turn to us for help. Special thanks go out to everyone who walked that extra mile to help others."
David Carter, chief executive of Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I’d like to pay tribute to my amazing colleagues across the Trust.
“The resilience, commitment and dedication they have shown in the past year has been nothing short of remarkable.
“This has undoubtedly been the most difficult year any of us in the NHS has ever seen. We’ve had to adapt to completely new ways of doing things. There has been a profound impact on both our staff and our services, and this will continue for some time to come.
“I’d like to thank the families and loved ones of our staff, who have supported them and helped them come to work so that we can give the best possible care to patients.
“A huge thank our is also due to our communities – across Bedfordshire – for the way they have stuck to the guidance, the sacrifices they have made, and the understanding they have shown as we’ve had to adapt.
“Their support – in the early days, clapping on doorsteps, and through their generosity of donations throughout – has been greatly valued."