Peterborough councillor forced into retirement by coronavirus overjoyed by community response to pandemic

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Tuesday, March 16 was just like any other day at work, although training a replacement as I was leaving after 25 years, writes Cllr Steve Lane, leader of the Werrington First group on Peterborough City Council.

My target date was to be the end of the month when I would say farewell to friends and colleagues, and take a well-earned retirement, something that had been over 50 years in the making.

As this year began, we heard the news of a strong and life-threatening virus emanating from the other side of the world. We were aware that we had often been met with such threats but all had been suppressed by science and medical knowledge.

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How little did we know how much all of our lives would be affected by coronavirus after just two months?

Cllr Steve LaneCllr Steve Lane
Cllr Steve Lane

But that Tuesday was to be such a turning point for me, personally. At midday my boss told me to go home, to limit any potential risk of my exposure to the virus. Despite the number of safety features the company had introduced in recent days she still had a duty of care for my welfare. The role of my team was a public-facing one, and she was aware of an underlying health issue that I have carried for a number of years, so there was a risk.

Regrettably, I worked on through the rest of my shift, saying that I would see how I felt in a day or two. However, over the next three days, increasingly urgent warnings told of worse to come, and both government and NHS advice strongly recommended self-isolation. It took me that amount of time before I gave in, realising the alternative was too much of a risk, both for myself and for those I love. So on the Friday I took heed and began self-isolation.

For me, that was that - effectively retired, and all with no banners or bells, just an admission that my time had come. I admit that my initial reluctance to give in had been purely selfish, as I had wished to end my career with all the dignity I felt was deserved.

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I did not want my future decided by anyone else, despite what the logic was saying, and I bet I have not been alone with making such a difficult decision. Before last week’s lockdown announcement by the Prime Minister there will have been thousands across the UK being faced with reality of either safety or danger.

And now, half-way through my first week, it is such a strange experience. I am already missing the banter and interaction at work, but feel more relaxed than I thought was possible and just happy to feel safe. I know I’m not alone.

As I finish typing this piece this afternoon I am at the desk of my home office, alone with my thoughts and a cup of coffee. Outside, the birds are singing in glorious spring sunshine, a welcome warmth to what must be some of the coldest days of our lives.

But like many people up and down the country, and even across the world, I need to be careful. There are not too many of us that have experienced a life such as this. I expect the closest would have been 80 years in the Blitz, with blackout and free movement curtailed. I lived in Singapore at the time of the Indonesian uprising in the sixties, when curfew was the order of the day, but nothing compares to the threat from this invisible virus, and how many of us it has the potential to affect.

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So, I urge everyone to please be sensible and follow the Government and public health guidelines. For now, I’m staying put, and with hours seamlessly blending from one to the next I suppose I’ll attempt to do some form of exercise, even if that means simply walking up and down the length of the back garden for a number of laps.

I will keep in touch with friends and family by text and phone calls. We are blessed with the level of technology that did not exist over 50 years ago and need to make full use of it to offer care and support for those in need.

Government has given no time limit on how long this emergency will last, so there will be a potential for social media to become a positive force. I see that already there is a growing number of support groups and individuals offering support and help to those in need. Indeed, I received a simple text from an unexpected source this morning, as a neighbour offered to do a shop for my wife and me. It gave us a wonderful feeling of strength for the future, and a sense of gratitude that someone actually took the time to think of us.

On reflection, my earlier disappointment pales into insignificance. With such an outpouring of love for humanity by these lovely people I am left with hope that throughout these troubled days, and as we come out of the other side, the lasting effect will bring communities closer together. I will cherish their kindness and hope we can sow its seed for a brighter future.