As we approach Spring, the silver lining is getting ever more brilliant and we can sense the light that has dimmed in our lives over the past pandemic-hit year will continue to get brighter. The prospect of beating this virus is now within reach and, mentally drained and missing social contact, we can now be confident and optimistic without feeling delusional.

Stansted Surgery: Community Vanguard

Having been the focal point for volunteers distributing food to people in isolation over these tumultuous months, Stansted surgery is the vanguard for the war on the pandemic that surpassed the grim milestone of 100,000 lives nationwide and scores of deaths of loved ones in our local area.

Last week, local vaccination proceeded at a fast clip of 1,600 per week over practices in Stansted, Elsenham, Dunmow, Felsted and Hatfield Heath. They have the capacity to reach around 2,000 per week, a rate that would ensure everyone in the catchment would be vaccinated by August. We just have to wait until we are called for our turn. Vaccine availability is a key challenge to ramping up inoculations to full capacity, but as production and logistics improve there is a chance of beating this disease that has lain waste to lives, livelihoods and people’s wellbeing by the end of the Summer.

Stansted Surgery has put out a call for volunteers to help shore up efforts to get the community completely vaccinated and safe as soon as possible. Taking the pressure off staff who still have to address health issues aside from Covid-19, clinical volunteers including practicing paramedics, nurses or retired healthcare staff, under the supervision of Dr Henderson, are involved in the programme. However, the surgery also needs administrative support and is appealing for volunteers to work with vaccinators, recording the jabs on the online toolkit. Anyone over the age of 18 who knows how to use a computer is invited to volunteer; they will be DBS checked, fully trained and required to sign a confidentially agreement. Contact the practice manager at: teresabuglass@nhs.net

In an effort to scotch social media myths about vaccination, Stansted U3A Chairman Ray Smith, an industrial pharmacist by profession, wrote in this month’s Link: “When you are offered a vaccination against Covid-19 please do not hesitate to accept. Whether from Pfizer, Astra-Zeneca or Moderna matters not because all are properly licensed. I was employed by a Pfizer company for 20 years and am very familiar with the stringent standards applied to the whole industry. Unfortunately, social media sites are spreading a lot of misinformation about the vaccinations from uninformed people. Please do not be misled by ignorance; have the jab, protect yourself and your loved ones … and me.

Credit should also go to other key workers. The care home workers that have tried to keep the most vulnerable members of our community, even though some of these workers are vulnerable themselves. The teachers who have had to rapidly change their entire way of working and respond fast to the flip-flopping measures of central government – sometimes working overnight to adapt to sudden edicts from the Prime Minister. The staff at YZ, Tesco and Co-op who are risking their health, mixing with the public eight hours a day to keep essential services going, sometimes facing abuse from those members of the public who are determined to ignore advice on social distancing and mask wearing.

Life After Pandemic: Building Back Better

The pandemic has brought out the best in the community, but shown up the worst in how we are governed and our economic flaws. In the process of rebuilding we should also be rethinking our long-term vision and restructuring, focusing on health, jobs and housing.

The community needs more pharmacy capacity and a second pharmacy is crucial to ensuring community resilience. The NHS has repeatedly refused to grant a pharmacy licence to the chemists at Castle Maltings next to Stansted Surgery, despite campaigns and appeals by local residents and the parish council over recent years. A licence is crucial to addressing the community’s growing needs.

With the collapse in aviation wiping out thousands of local jobs, we have woken up to the realisation that Stansted Airport cannot be the sole generator of local economic activity. We need diversification and our local authorities should step up to the plate. Local shops, pubs, restaurants and services are desperate to restart, having been subjected to months of disruption – any business failure, no matter how small, represents jobs lost, lives shattered and a hole in what was a thriving village economy. An enterprise zone similar to the one that has been developed in Harlow and is expanding opportunities for young people should be established in this part of Uttlesford. This part of the district has a great deal of talent and skills, which could be applied to various sectors, particularly fast-growing sectors related to renewable energy and the digital economy. Leadership and vision are key to economic transformation – do our local authorities, MP and government have what it takes, though?

We also need to address social inequalities and close the chasm that has emerged due to coronavirus. Many local families were forced into penury, even on the furlough system, due to reductions in income while continuing to pay through the nose for modest accommodation. Meagre universal credit and low wages forced many to resort to food banks – a voluntary system of aid that should not exist in a developed economy – to get their basic needs met. Genuinely affordable homes – preferably council housing – is needed as central part of rebalancing society towards addressing need instead of serving the greed of a few.