Eastbourne looks back over the last year since lockdown started

It has now been 365 days since the first lockdown was imposed, here’s a look back at the last year in Eastbourne.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 3:22 pm

It has been an extraordinary 12 months which have changed our lives in terms of health, financial well-being and simple social contact with family and friends.

On March 23 last year it was announced England would go into a national lockdown. People were told to only leave the house for essential shopping, limited exercise, medical needs and travelling to work only when absolutely necessary.

Non-essential shops and services shut and home schooling started with children in Eastbourne swapping the classroom for the kitchen table.

Firefighters clapping for carers. Photo by Dan Jessup. SUS-210322-172125001

Community spirit shone through with a number of organisations helping vulnerable people unable to get out to shop for essentials. A local charity called Matthew 25 Mission continued to feed people in need through government guidelines, Morrisons offered food boxes to vulnerable people struggling to get delivery slots and the local foodbank pleaded shoppers to donate much-needed tinned food.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the coronavirus furlough scheme to help firms struggling with the impact of the virus.

Just two months later businesses in Eastbourne had already put around 11,500 employees on furlough.

At the same time, people in the area had made roughly 4,100 claims for financial support under the separate Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

Black Lives Matter protests in Eastbourne SUS-210322-172145001

April saw Captain Tom Moore complete his 100th lap for the NHS, rainbows popped up in windows all over streets in Eastbourne and residents continue to clap for carers from their doorsteps every Thursday evening.

Following the announcement of lockdown being extended in mid-April, it was revealed 90 per cent of Herald readers believed the lockdown should be extended.

At the time Sue Stevens said, “I would rather be in lockdown for as long as it takes and come out the other end alive. Some people aren’t taking it seriously enough.”

On April 24 father and son Simon and Louis Smith walked around their neighbourhood dressed as Spider-Man to bring a smile to children stuck at home during lockdown.

The hospitality industry opened up again last summer. Photo by Justin Lycett. SUS-210322-172205001

A family provided more than 100 care packages for key workers too.

Family member Tracey Owen said, “Keyworkers are not just the NHS workers, there are a lot of forgotten heroes that need to know we appreciate them too. We may not know them personally, but we owe then so much.”

May brought the first signs of lockdown easing and people started to go back to work but Boris Johnson confirmed schools and non-essential shops and services would remain shut until at least June.

Some 72 per cent of Herald readers voted that Dominic Cummings should have been dismissed by the Prime Minister following his Covid rule breaking by driving to Durham.

Tracie Owen and Carly Warnett packed care packages for key workers. SUS-210322-172135001

Eastbourne Rangers were back on the pitch in May too as one of the first football teams to get back to one-to-one training after new legislation from the Football Association was released.

June 1 was when schools and businesses gradually started to reopen and we started #BigThankYou to shine a light on the local health heroes working through the pandemic.

Black Lives Matter took hold this month too and hundreds of people joined peaceful protests in the town.

On June 15 queues formed across Eastbourne as people gathered to non-essential shops for the first time in months.

Eastbourne firefighters completed a 1,000 mile fundraiser for the NHS through a mix of running around the stations, on treadmills and cross trainers for 24 hours a day to reach their end target. More than £3,000 was raised through the efforts of the crews.

Operation Save Our Summer launched on July 4 when major sections of the hospitality and tourism industries reopened.

At the time MP Caroline Ansell said, “This is brilliant news and I am very relieved. We must remain positive and have faith people will return so that jobs and businesses can restart and make the best of July, August and September.”

August was when a huge number of local businesses signed up to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme taking place all month to give the hospitality industry the boost it needed and get people out spending money again.

August also saw a heatwave with temperatures in the 30s and the Continental Circus Berlin came to Eastbourne for a week.

Figures released in August revealed more than 11,000 people were claiming benefits in the town in July, according to the Jobcentre. This was a 75 per cent increase since the lockdown started in March.

Results based off teacher assessments and a grade standardisation algorithm were released to students too with Bede’s Senior School celebrating 75 per cent of its A-level students receiving A* to B grades.

Eastbourne College also did very well. Headmaster Tom Lawson said, “Pupils should be proud of their achievements and hard work on the A-level course.”

Despite this, many students across the country were left disappointed as the algorithm downgraded them. However, after heavy criticism these grades were withdrawn and now this summer grades are being decided from teacher assessments only.

As the summer holidays came to an end the Prime Minister issued a plea to parents to send children back to the classroom despite ongoing rumours of a second wave of Covid on the horizon.

September gave us a look at the Winter Garden’s million pound refurbishment through a grant from South East Local Enterprise Partnership.

On September 11 the R value rose above one for the first time since early March and parts of the country are put into tough restrictions due to increasing numbers of cases.

Theatre shows in the town were cancelled until January including the annual Devonshire Park Theatre pantomime.

A 10pm curfew for the hospitality industry was put in place from September 24 - something that really impacted pubs and bars in Eastbourne.

Shoes Sims, the owner of The Eagle pub said, “The curfew is encouraging people to socialise at home instead which is where the virus is more likely to spread.”

Darren Myall, co-owner of The Loft Lounge, said the curfew has ‘crucified’ them.

Late September saw the Eastbourne Walking Festival and Beat the Street focus on getting people outside and active in a Covid-safe way.

In October Eastbourne was named in the top 10 UK winter staycation destinations as an alternative to foreign travel plans that were ruined due to the pandemic.

A number of local businesses also responded to the Marcus Rashford campaign by offering free meals to families in need over the half term break.

Beachy Head marathon still took place despite many other events being cancelled. Runners were split up over two weekends to separate them for Covid restrictions.

October 31 was when a four-week lockdown was announced by Boris Johnson due to rising cases and the furlough scheme was extended. Caroline Ansell expected the second lockdown would be ‘catastrophic’ for tourism and hospitality.

The government said they’d seek to ease restriction from December 2 before heading into the Christmas period.

Remembrance Day took place virtually to protect residents and veterans. The service from the Town Hall was broadcast to members of the public on November 8.

Cllr and Mayor Steve Wallis said, “Remembrance Sunday is well supported by residents, our heroic veterans and a variety of organisations every year, and it is our duty to protect the health of all those involved.”

The month-long lockdown came to an end and we moved into a three-tier system of restrictions. The total number of cases recorded in Eastbourne stood at 1,148 in December but with the first vaccine approved, hope was on the way.

Eastbourne was moved into Tier 2 in the run up to Christmas, but a number of Eastbourne events still went ahead under Covid restrictions including the Christmas lights and market, and a festive prize draw worth thousands of pounds.

Despite continued confirmation that rules would be relaxed for a five-day period over Christmas, on December 19 Boris Johnson changed festive plans and pushed Eastbourne into Tier 4 from Boxing Day.

New Year came and went under restrictions but in better news, the AstraZeneca and Oxford vaccine roll out started on January 4 at the DGH.

January 4 also saw the announcement of a third national lockdown due to rising infection numbers.

The vaccine roll out continued in Eastbourne with a number of centres opening including the Sovereign Centre and The Beacon.

Some 7,100 jobs were recorded as being on furlough in Eastbourne in January and the number of people claiming out-of-work benefits had doubled since March last year - standing at 4,400.

Lockdown weeks past and on February 15 a road map back to ‘normality’ was announced, with schools being first to return on March 8 followed by everything else gradually opening up again until the hope for all restrictions being dropped by June 21.

March has brought a feeling of hope as children returned to school earlier this month and with more restriction set to lift next month if cases continue to fall, people are feeling optimistic for the future.

After an extremely difficult year for many of us, the vaccine rollout is the glimmer of hope for a life not bound by restrictions.

NHS data on March 14 showed 49,846 people in Eastbourne have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Now, 365 days on from the first lockdown announcement, we’re only a few weeks away from the next step of the road map out lockdown coming into affect which will see non-essential shops and services opening again, and outdoor hospitality will resume.

Beachy Head marathon. Photo by Jon Rigby. SUS-210322-172215001
The Eastbourne Christmas market. SUS-210322-172114001