Lockdown - Reflections at the end of week 52

Next Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, is the first anniversary of the day on which Covid restrictions first came into force in the United Kingdom. It has been designated as a day of reflection, primarily to commemorate the loss of lives and to stand together with the bereaved. It is also a time to reflect on other things, and so in the hope that you don’t find it too self-indulgent, here are my thoughts on the year just gone.

I don’t know if 23rd March 2020 is a day which those who lived through it will remember for the rest of their lives, rather like, for my parents’ generation, the day of declaration of war in 1939 or, for those a generation younger, the day on which John F Kennedy was assassinated. I know what I did on 23rd March. It had become clear that a lockdown was coming, and we had already tested our capacity as a firm to abandon the office and work from home. On 23rd March I was in the office and, with the lockdown imminent, I drove to Cambridge that evening, whilst it was still permitted, to pick up one of my sons with his belongings from the flat which he was having to leave because he had been made redundant. His redundancy was directly linked to Covid which had sounded the death knell for the company he worked for. His story isn’t remarkable in these times, and it was fortunate that he had no dependents and that he lived as close to us as he did. But it is not untypical of younger members of the workforce who have been in the majority of those who have lost their jobs.

And since then? Working from home has become the norm and, whilst it wouldn’t be my personal choice, it works.  Lockdown has proved to be a catalyst which has accelerated change which was rumbling away in the background. Agile working, the demise of the High Street, the utilisation of commercial space and the continuing growth of the part which IT plays in our lives have all been catapulted forward in time.

The sudden changes in behaviour imposed on us by lockdown have seen business failures and business successes. Unlike usual economic downturns, how a business is managed or financed has not been the determining factor so much as what they do. Whilst the majority of businesses have adapted, some with more difficulty and pain than others, it has also been the case that good businesses have failed or are on their knees, and not very well run businesses have thrived simply by reason of what they do. This trend sits firmly outside my 30-odd years of experience and is, I suspect, not unlike some of the workings of a wartime economy.

We have benefitted from extraordinary living proof of the human spirit. The dedication of, and sacrifices made by, health and other key workers has been selfless and remarkable. We have seen neighbourhoods coming together in a way not seen for years, and communities caring for their vulnerable members. Captain Sir Tom became a lightning rod for a wider feeling of all being in it together. Families have rediscovered the pleasure of each other’s company and there are too many other good things to even start to list them. Less comfortably, the pressure of lockdown has also exposed less admirable aspects of the human condition as, for example, the polar opposite of family harmony, domestic violence, has also jumped and our circumstances have also opened up increased opportunities to fraudsters. On a much wider platform, we have also seen some horrible politics, not least the politics currently being played out over vaccines which threaten human lives.

It has been hard to keep track of time as we have lost the annual markers which form the habitual framework of our years. Events come and go, but their order becomes ill-defined and our experience of life sits in the immediate. In case that sounds like some vague philosophical burbling, it’s not that long since Donald Trump and Dominic Cummings were major and controversial political influences in our lives, but it now seems as if they never were.

So far, I have not touched on the bereaved which is where this piece started. I am one, having had two parents alive on 23rd March last year and now only having one. It is important to commemorate thoughtfully those who have died during times when the sheer number of deaths and the circumstances in which they have occurred has meant that all the bereaved have seen their close family’s death as part of a composite number reported on the national news but conventional observance has been limited.

But we must also look to the living. In amongst the rush to get back to the new normal, we mustn’t forget not only the bereaved but all those other people who have been adversely impacted by lockdown, whether they are suffering physically or mentally, whether they are children who have lost an important year not only of academic education but of social learning and development, whether they are old people who have been deprived of family contact and suffered substantially as a result or whether they have lost their jobs and other things that go with the economic security of a regular wage. There are, of course, many others who I haven’t got room to mention.

So there it is - my reflections on a year of lockdown. Thank you for reading them. I ardently hope that I won’t be doing the same thing this time next year. In the much shorter term, the sun has just come out, the birds are singing and I wish you all a good weekend.

Ian Waine
Senior Partner