No-one will look back on 2020 with any fondness. Families have lost loved ones; businesses have crumbled; community projects have been paused; and we have had to temporarily put aside freedoms that we have taken for granted.
The respite enjoyed over the summer months seems a distant memory as Edinburgh joins most of Scotland in tier 3 of restrictions, limiting travel and social interaction. Although evidence suggests that Edinburgh is better placed than many other central belt councils, we have already seen how little it takes for COVID cases to spike dramatically. I suspect caution will be needed for a while yet.
So how do we support each other through this dark COVID-winter?
Firstly, is continuation of that rekindled community spirit we saw back in Spring. Even in the midst of repeated bleak news it was so heartening to see hundreds of support networks spring into action, street by street, to look out for older or more vulnerable neighbours. Those neighbours will need that help just as much now so keep checking in on them, keep volunteering, keep being good citizens.
Secondly, let’s all support our local businesses, charities and social enterprises. Because of the sheer scale of the city’s hospitality sector, Edinburgh’s economy has taken a worse hit than many areas over the last nine months. If we want to see our town centres and high streets recover, our support is going to be crucial.
Thirdly, keep active. The winter months are when most of us find getting exercise most difficult. As a board member of Edinburgh Leisure I know what special efforts have been made to get gyms, swimming pools and outdoor sports venues open again so please do support your local facilities.
But getting outdoors will also be critical, for mental health as much as for physical exercise. We can’t travel far from Edinburgh right now so this is where our network of green and blue spaces is so vital: from Holyrood Park in my own patch, to the city’s coastline, the Water of Leith and the Pentland Hills and so much else. Even a short stroll in a local park can work wonders. This is why the council must keep up all efforts to make walking, wheeling and cycling as easy and safe as possible.
And lastly, let’s look to the future.
Brexit will become a reality at the end of the year, with huge uncertainty on what effect it will have on our European friends and neighbours; they may also need those community support networks and as an international and welcoming city I know we will make kindness our watchword for them in 2021.
And although it has been happening many thousands of miles away, the US election has been a lesson in how toxic politics consumed by hate can be and how precious is the gift of hope. I am not starry-eyed about the outcome but the importance of the USA re-entering international efforts to tackle the climate crisis should not be underestimated. Here in Edinburgh, even when COVID-19 has gone, that larger crisis remains and, as Scotland’s capital, it is our duty to lead the way in tackling it.
We can collectively get through the next few months and build back better.