Small steps to a new freedom

Easter is a time for renewal and rebirth. This year it marks the beginning of the great unlocking of our country. Step-by-step, we will be able to meet, get a haircut, go to the pub and, in due course, go to the theatre or a football match. Some offices will begin to re-open, and the rest of the shops that many of us have missed very much.

But as we unlock, we must do so with thought and support. Thoughtful of those who may be leaving their houses for the first time in many months, as shielding ends. I was touched to hear how someone had arranged to walk to the seafront and sit on a bench, appropriately distanced, with a friend who has been in isolation now for many months. Such a kindness, and a great idea.

Supporting each other also means backing our local businesses – pubs, gyms, beauty and hair salons, restaurants, and so much more as they get up and running again. Government has given Dover District Council more than £100,000 of Welcome Back funding to boost local shopping and tourism, as well as £65,000 more from a special coastal fund, to support brilliant coastal communities like ours. Now we need to play our part in booking in, using and supporting local businesses too.

Local holiday cottages, caravan parks and tourism look set to benefit from the summer of staycations. Where better to visit than White Cliffs country – with our beautiful countryside, attractive seafronts, famous heritage and so much more besides. I very much hope that as families holiday again across our nation, people will experience just how lovely it is – and want to visit again and again. This really could be a renaissance of home-grown tourism and hospitality.

However, following the rules still really matters. It is tempting to think that with our astonishing vaccination programme and low infection rates we are out of danger. We are not. We still need to be really careful – to keep unlocking and moving forward together. Europe is in the grasp of a serious third wave. That could put renewed pressure on infection rates here in the UK. There is the risk of new variants. That’s why it’s so important we keep doing all we can to follow the rules at each stage of the national journey through the pandemic.

There is no doubt that many things will be different when the pandemic is finally over. How we work, do business and our social attitudes will inevitably be changed. Yet what will not change is the power of friendship and community. Of being there for the people who need us. As we unlock, friendship and community will come to the fore, as we get together and enjoy the company of others once again. Come April 12th, let’s all raise a glass to that.

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