This column appeared in the Friday 12th February 2021 edition of the South London Press.
February 6th had the dubious honour of marking the one-year anniversary of the first time a constituent contacted me about coronavirus. When I replied to that message, I had no idea that twelve months later we would still be dealing with a devastating global pandemic.
This lockdown seems to have been the hardest of them all and we have passed some very grim milestones in recent weeks. I therefore thought I should use this week’s column to try to spread some positivity among SLP readers.
It has been fantastic to see the way the people of Lewisham have pulled together to support those who need it most. Much of this has been organised via local social media and volunteer services.
Many of these contributions have been recognised by this year’s Lewisham Mayor’s Award Scheme. The scheme received almost 200 nominations for individuals, organisations and businesses who have gone above and beyond to support their community. The mayor decided that all nominees should receive an award and has shared a selection of their stories here: https://www.iamlewisham.uk/mayors-awards
Lots of my constituents were recognised, but I want to give a special mention to the Evelyn Community Store. The store opened almost two years ago and is run by Dawn Atkinson, Natasha Ricketts, Christine Norman and a team of other dedicated volunteers in conjunction with Lewisham Homes. It is open to anyone who lives in Lewisham and is in receipt of benefits or on a low-income.
Dawn, Natasha and Christine were appointed Mayoresses of Lewisham in July 2020 in recognition of their response to the pandemic and their work caught the attention of footballer Marcus Rashford, who visited in September to discuss child food poverty.
Another unexpected positive to come out of the last year is that I have started to discuss my own health more openly. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2019 and am on medication which suppresses my immune system. This means that I am on the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ (CEV) list and have been shielding.
Although this has been difficult, opening up about my condition has enabled me to connect with other CEV people. This has really helped me to understand the issues affecting their daily lives and to press the government to make improvements. It has also enabled me to build up a great network as part of my work as Shadow Minister for Disabled People.
Three weeks ago I received my first vaccine, which was a huge milestone for me. I should point out this had nothing to do with being an MP; the medication I’m on for my arthritis puts me in priority group four. I would strongly encourage everyone to take up the offer of a vaccine when their time comes.
There is, of course, still a long way to go, but at the time of writing more than one million Londoners have received their first dose. That’s got to be a big positive.