I am sure you all know that Chinese New Year fell on 12 February and this year we are entering the year of the Ox. Red is traditionally an important colour at Chinese New Year. People wear and decorate homes with this colour, and firecrackers are set off in celebration of the year to come. In Worcester we would normally have a crowd of people outside the Guildhall to welcome in the Chinese New Year with a dragon and brightly dressed performers and dancers, but of course as with so many events this year COVID has affected the way we marked the occasion. So, Monday found me on a Zoom call with Nina Das Gupta from BBC Hereford and Worcester, being interviewed instead about Chinese New Year.
The first year that we officially celebrated this event in Worcester was 1999, so it has now been an important fixture in the city’s calendar for 22 years. I was pleased to say in my interview how significant this festival has become and that it brings joy into the lives of so many people here, even though it will be online this year. It can be seen on YouTube at http://www.worcestershirechineseassociation.com/. We deeply value the contribution the Chinese people make to our multicultural society in Worcester and we enjoy celebrating with them.
I hope our school children are enjoying half term. I would normally be taking my grandchildren out for day trips and having fun, but times are anything but normal. This time I have had to make do with a walk with Dave. Not quite the same fun!!
I am pleased to see that the number of new cases of COVID continues to fall nationally as well as here in Worcester, and the vaccination programme is progressing well. While we can feel some relief at the promise of better times to come, please remember that our hospitals are still working overtime to cope with this disease, and therefore it is still absolutely necessary to observe the basic rules of lockdown.
As I write this, it is bitterly cold outside and the temperature is beginning to drop even further as darkness falls. This week it dropped to nearly -23 degrees in Braemar – and it doesn’t look like there will be much improvement on that tonight. What I also have in front of me is a vase of spring daffodils, and in spite of the cold outside these simple flowers give me hope of better times to come. We are approaching the one-year mark since most of us realised that there was something amiss in the world, in the shape of a new virus. Little did we know then how serious it would be and how much it would change our lives.
Another week in lockdown for me means another week when sadly I cannot come out to meet you and perform those special jobs that you expect from your Mayor. I have however not been idle. I attended a Zoom meeting of the Council’s Policy and Resources committee, at which we discussed and approved a budget for next year to be recommended to full Council in two weeks’ time. I also attended a trustees’ meeting of Worcester Community Trust, again by Zoom.
However, one of the nicest activities of my week was the Zoom meeting to launch the sensory lending library at Fort Royal Primary school. The Friends of Fort Royal, together with generous donors, raised enough money to buy over 200 pieces of equipment which will help the pupils to extend their period of concentration. While the children cannot access the equipment at school because of lockdown, they can now borrow it to aid their learning process. What a brilliant idea – many thanks to all those who raised this money to make this possible.
How have you used this lockdown time? Have you learned a new skill, read that pile of books, decorated that room, tidied the garden or decluttered your cupboards? If like me you have not done any of these, don’t be disheartened. The coronavirus rate continues to fall in Worcester and with the vaccination programme progressing, we will get through this.
I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore this week. He was a symbol of hope and fortitude to us all and helped us to look forward to a better time when we can come together and hug our loved ones and enjoy each other’s company again. Captain Tom helped us to believe that “tomorrow will be a good day”. My deepest sympathy goes out to his family and to the families of all those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic. I am pleased to say that the vaccination programme seems to be on target for all those in the highest risk groups to have had one vaccination by mid-February.
I enjoyed my bi-monthly discussion with the City Council’s CEO, David Blake this week and we were able to catch up on plans for the city centre. We hope that the grant already awarded of £17.9m from the Future High Street Fund and the bid going in for £27.9m for the Town Investment Plan will bring funding into Worcester that will make the centre of town an attractive and interesting place to visit and live in. This is an exciting time to be in Worcester.
This week Worcester Twinning Association, of which I am President, set up a zoom meeting attended by our friends from our twin towns of Worcester Massachusetts, le Vesinet, Kleve and Vernon. We had a very interesting talk from Howard Robinson who told us about the voyage of the Mayflower from Plymouth to New England in 1620 carrying a local man from Droitwich named Edward Winslow. This was obviously of particular interest to our American friends and our Zoom was attended by over 40 participants all together. Zoom has certainly helped twinning members to stay in touch and is a way forward for the future of our organisation.
My holiday planning which I told you about last week continues and my wish list of destinations is getting longer every day! I am going to need plenty of energy to get through it and whether I will manage, I don’t know, but it is going to be great fun trying.
I am now two thirds of the way through my mayoral year and hoping that before my period in office is finished, I will have chance to meet more of you and hear about your lives and interests. So many of you in Worcester have shown extraordinary courage and kindness during the time since we went into our first lockdown ten months ago. There have been so many stories of people helping each other and putting their own health and wellbeing at risk to do so. To each one of you I want to say a personal thank you for your sacrifices and kindness; we all owe you a huge debt of gratitude.
Work at the City Council continues as usual; I have attended a number of Zoom meetings in the last few days. Who would have thought that we would be running our lives like this 12 months ago? Just a word to all the mums and dads who are home schooling. I know how hard it is to inspire young people to want to learn and keep them interested. Teachers go through three or four years of training to do it, and suddenly parents are expected to take over the reins as well as do their own work and run a home. It is difficult and you deserve our praise and thanks for all your efforts in doing this.
I hope you will have seen in the Worcester News that my first vaccination went very smoothly; I am pleased to say that I had no after effects. I feel that I am on the way to having the best protection I can from COVID and would urge everyone to take up the jab when it is offered. This week we passed a terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths in this country from COVID, and the only way out is through the vaccine. I try to keep positive by planning holidays for the future. It’s good fun because I haven’t set myself any limits. It certainly helps to pass a wet and cold afternoon in lockdown!