‘The most important thing is to not panic’: lessons we’ve learnt from lockdown

“It’s been pretty grim all round and west London has been particularly hit by the contraction of traffic at Heathrow.”

These are the words of Andrew Dakers, chief executive of West London Business, and one of the many community leaders impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Representing a supporter base of over 17,000 businesses, Dakers has noticed the way in which lockdown has altered the nature of enterprise.

He said: “One of the words we’ve been hearing all too regularly, as well as ‘furlough’, is that businesses are pivoting.

“We’ve found that a business doesn’t just pivot once, but every week or two weeks, in one direction or another.”

Local enterprise has been particularly hard hit, with research from Oxford Economics revealing the pandemic could result in a £1billion loss to Hounslow’s economy alone.

But for this chief executive, lockdown and its effects have extended far beyond the realm of business. 

Dakers explained that while bearing significant responsibilities in terms of local economic recovery at West London Business, his year was defined by his wife’s pregnancy.

He said: “My wife was naturally very cautious as a result of being pregnant and all the unknowns of COVID, so really she went into lockdown almost before anyone else.

“It is certainly a strange time for couples that have been through pregnancy, in terms of the constraints, such as scans. 

“It is often just the mum that has the scan who comes out with a photo, which changes the dynamic of the pregnancy experience for lots of couples.”

Despite what Dakers has described as the downsides of lockdown, there have been a number of new opportunities he has embraced. 

He explained that because of the move to hosting meetings on Zoom, he spends far less time travelling between meetings which has enabled him to achieve a lot more. 

“I would count myself as one of those who kind of thrives in the quiet and isolation. You always have to work hard to create a positive culture in organisations and a culture where everyone is motivated.” he added. 

Asked what lockdown had taught him, Dakers said: “The disruption to the rhythm of all our lives has created space for neglected pastimes.

“Lockdown has refocused me on the importance of self-care and the different kind of mental and physical stresses that have come with this year, as well as the strange way that we are living our lives.”

This was the case for St Mary’s University vice chancellor Anthony McClaran, who has witnessed the impact of the pandemic on the student community. 

He said: “It has been tough for all members of the St Mary’s community. When the first lockdown came, it was so unexpected and different that we all had to quickly adapt to the new normal.

“I was particularly inspired by how our students embraced the challenges of learning remotely and how our staff moved quickly and seamlessly to continue delivery of academic and support operations virtually.”

St Mary’s has worked on new strategies to ensure students have access to entertainment and wellbeing tools through its ‘Simmies at Home’ programme. 

A collaboration between the Students’ Union and the Student Services team, the initiative is aimed at supporting student’s physical and mental wellbeing through offering a range of virtual activities, such as parties and exercise sessions.

The impact of lockdown has been felt across the whole community, but particularly within the political sphere.

Recently-elected Richmond Park MP Sarah Olney explained that the greatest difficulty was having no guide for how politicians should respond. 

She said: “In the first lockdown, as was the case with everyone, it was incredibly difficult. Being a newly elected MP brought quite a lot of difficulties with it.

“I think as a legislator there was a real lack of understanding of the situation we found ourselves in from a government point of view.”

For Olney, as a mother of primary school children, lockdown brought with it a number of personal challenges. 

She added: “The biggest impact has been having my children at home. I found it incredibly distressing seeing the amount of restrictions they were under.

“As a parent, it really hurt seeing them not being able to do the things they wanted to do. I hadn’t put my heart and soul into parenting to have my kids sit inside for months on end just staring at devices.” 

The Richmond Park MP revealed the extent of local outrage surrounding Dominic Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle. 

She said: “It unleashed an outpouring of grief and anger. For me that was frankly the most difficult part.

“Having to read through these harrowing emails from constituents who had been through the most extraordinary grief and sacrifice and so many of them felt they had been made a fool of.”

For Olney, lockdown has not only reinforced the personal consequences of lockdown, but also the psychological implications: the inability to control events. 

She said: “When something is beyond your control, you’ve just gotta let go and let things happen the way they’re going to happen.

“Don’t panic, don’t worry, just go with the flow and take one day at a time and try not to focus too much on problems that have yet to manifest.”

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