FOLLOWING a year since the first national lockdown many have reflected on a time like no other.
On March 23 the first UK lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus was announced – at the time nobody could have anticipated the many losses and lockdowns that would follow.
Along with tributes and memorials in Barry, the Vale, Wales and beyond – which you can read more about on page two – people living in Barry and the Vale have reflected on a year of the coronavirus pandemic.
Many traders across the UK have been hit hard by the impact of lockdowns – in Wales the closure of shops and businesses deemed “non essential” has meant many have taken a huge financial hit.
This includes West Hampton in Cowbridge and Hamptons in Penarth, which are co-owned by Peter Knowles and Andy Bradshaw.
Mr Knowles said: “The past year has undoubtedly been the toughest in the 16 years that Hamptons has been open.
“Finding out that we had to close a year ago was devastating although we fully understood and accepted the need for it.
“The following months were full of worry about when we might be able to re-open and whether people would actually return to shopping in the town centre.
“We knew that things would be different and that we would need to ensure that customers could shop safely and that we would be able to ensure the safety of our staff.
“So we sent most of the first lockdown reorganising the layout at Hamptons, Shore on the seafront and our shop, West Hampton in Cowbridge so that customers were able to socially distance while they were shopping with us.
“We recognised that giving people confidence that shops like ours were safe places to shop was going to be vital when the lockdown ended.
“Re-opening after the first lockdown brought its own challenges.
“It was quite emotionally draining in the first few weeks having to constantly manage the number of people in the shop, asking people to use the hand sanitiser and trying to ensure that people were maintaining social distancing while in the shop.
“Our shop on the seafront was probably the hardest to manage especially at the weekends when big groups of people would try to come into the shop when we were already at our safe capacity.
“Most people understood and were happy to wait outside but some were simply rude which made the job of managing a safe shopping environment even harder.
“Financially it has been a real challenge. Government grants and the furlough scheme have been a lifeline but nothing will make up for the lost sales and like most businesses it will take time to recover properly.
“Having to close for the firebreak was a second blow and then having to close again the week before Christmas, which for us should have been the busiest week of the year was devastating.
“But we have remained positive throughout all of this. We have lots to be grateful for unlike many other businesses who haven’t survived and people who have lost loved ones.
“We have used this lockdown to build on the success of the food hall at Hamptons which we launched after the first lockdown.
“We have increased the floor space of the shop upstairs to provide more space for the food hall and we have been working with lots of new artisan food producers to introduce lots of new products ready for when we re-open next month.
“We know that we will still have to continue to maintain social distancing, encouraging the use of hand sanitisers and the wearing of face coverings but we’ve done it before and while it brings its own challenges we are ready to welcome people back into our shops.”
The firebreak lockdown was introduced by Welsh Government in October 2020 – it spanned from October 23 to November 9.
Unlike the first national lockdown it was introduced by Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford, rather than the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
This lockdown started earlier than England’s – some have suggested a national approach throughout the coronavirus pandemic should have been implemented.
Speaking of the anniversary of the first lockdown, Mr Drakeford said it was an “opportunity to reflect and remember those we’ve lost during the pandemic, and to look forward to a better and brighter future.”
Although the year has had many challenges, many believe the vaccination roll-out in Wales is a positive step forward.
Jane Hutt, who is deputy minister and chief whip and has represented the Vale of Glamorgan for more than 20 years, said: “It has been a long and challenging year for everyone, and it is important to reflect as we mark one year since the pandemic began.
“We have lost friends and family under very difficult circumstances, often when we could not be there to say goodbye.
“Others are suffering long term effects of the virus and so many people have been affected in other ways. We must continue to support each other through this tough time.
She continued: “During the pandemic, we have seen our communities here in the Vale pull together.
“The numbers of people who have volunteered to help vulnerable people have increased dramatically and we have heard stories of neighbours being there for one another throughout.
“The success of the vaccine roll out, implemented through our existing health services and our new mass vaccination centres, including one in Barry, is testament to the strength of our NHS.
“I would like to thank all of our frontline health and social care workers for everything they have done throughout the year.
“The availability of the vaccine gives us hope that we are approaching the end of the pandemic. As we move cautiously ahead I want to reflect on the sacrifices people have made this year and thank everybody who has helped to keep Wales and the Vale safe.
“I was moved by the events on March 23 to share a moment of silence with people across the UK, with landmark buildings lit up across Wales.
“I want to pay tribute to all those on the frontline – our NHS, care workers, our volunteers as well as those who serve us in retail, transport, our schools and in our police forces.”
Amid the coronavirus pandemic the Vale Heroes Support Team – made up of volunteers – was set up in April 2020 to provide support to residents in need.
If you are in crisis and need to speak to someone about any specific support requirements you have that cannot be met in any other way, you can call the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Support Team on 01446 729592.
Leader of the Vale of Glamorgan Council Cllr Neil Moore, said: “The last 12 months have seen the world change in ways we could never have envisaged as Covid-19 wreaked havoc across the globe.
“At the start of 2020, none of us could have imagined what lay in store and how profoundly our lives were about to be effected.
“All of us have been significantly impacted by coronavirus and, sadly, many of us have lost loved ones to this terrible disease.
“There is reason to be optimistic about the future, with large scale vaccination offering hope that life can return more to normal before too long.
“But, while we look forwards with hope, it is also important we remember the human cost of the pandemic.”
Vale of Glamorgan Council managing director, Rob Thomas, added: “Thousands of people have lost their lives to Covid-19 in Wales, with many more becoming seriously ill, and that fact should never be forgotten.
“As a mark of respect, we observed a two-minute silence and lit up council buildings in yellow.”
Conservative MP for Vale of Glamorgan, Alun Cairns, also reflected on one year since the first lockdown – acknowledging that there have been highs and lows throughout.
Mr Cairns said: “‘Twelve months on from the start of lockdown there is no doubt there has been highs and lows.
“The positive highlights to me have been how the community has pulled together and just how hard our key staff have worked this past year.
“From our NHS staff, to teachers, retail workers, drivers and many more key workers, they have all been fantastic in their response to the challenges the pandemic has brought.
“Another high point has certainly been how charity groups have stepped up to support those in our community.
“The Round Table and Rotary Clubs, Church groups, the Soroptimist and many other charitable causes have been an integral part of supporting those most vulnerable throughout these past 12 months.”
Barry’s Freemasons are among the many who’ve stepped up in the coronavirus pandemic; allowing their masonic hall to be used to help vaccinate people.
“The lows are the individual cases, the lives that have sadly been lost and the isolation that lockdown has placed upon us,” added Mr Cairns.
“Thankfully, these charitable causes formed a vital link between the community and those who feel most isolated during the lockdown.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, I am hopeful that our strong community spirit will be retained and strengthened.”