Politically Speaking: Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford
When Pontefract Civic Society started planning celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, none of us could have imagined we would be commemorating it in circumstances like this.
Although there can’t be street parties this Friday, like many people, I’ve still got the bunting up and will be raising a glass during the ‘Toast for Peace’ at 3pm on Friday so we remember and honour all the wartime heroes who fought for freedom.
Now the country finds itself fighting a different kind of battle and a different kind of hardship as we face a virus that has already cost too many lives. The community spirit that sustained this country through the war is the same spirit sustaining us in our towns now.
Whether it is coping with loneliness because you can’t go out, worrying about money or going hungry because your job has been cut, or trying to keep young children happy and learning at home, a lot of families are feeling real pressure.
But the message from all our volunteers and community groups is “don’t suffer alone when we can all help each other.”
At Queen’s Mill in Castleford each week volunteers put together activity packs for young people, and we’ve been delivering them to families across town. St Mary’s in Chequerfield has been coordinating volunteers to drop off shopping or food parcels for people all over Pontefract who can’t get out.
The Well Project in Haw Hill Park has been doing the same for Normanton. And at Kellingley Club in Knottingley, as well as delivering shopping and food, we’ve been collecting children’s books to pass on to families while schools are closed.
The Prince of Wales Hospice has set up special bereavement support on 01977 781452 for those who have lost loved ones in the crisis, and support services are available to help those facing awful domestic abuse too – you can ring the national helpline on 0808 2000 247, you are not alone.
The greatest heroes in our new national battle against coronavirus are those saving lives on the frontline and keeping the country going. Tonight we will all be out on the doorstep clapping for our NHS staff and carers, and I’ll also be thinking of all the shop workers, bus drivers, posties, police officers, teachers and everyone still working to keep our communities going.
But clapping isn’t enough if frontline staff don’t have the protective equipment they need. Frankly it is disgraceful that local NHS and care workers have struggled to get proper protective clothing – the government needs to do much more to sort it out.
Our heroes should be properly supported and properly rewarded too. The coronavirus crisis has proved what many of us in our towns already knew, that the crucial care workers, NHS staff, and key workers from shop workers to refuse collectors have been undervalued and underpaid for too long.
Once the crisis is over, we can’t carry on with underfunded services. We have to learn from what happened after VE Day when we decided to build a better, fairer Britain.
We need to do the same after this crisis too.