Chorley remembers those lost in the pandemic on first national lockdown anniversary

As we reach the first anniversary of lockdown, one heartbroken family has spoken of how COVID-19 ‘completely shattered and changed’ it forever.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 9:30 am
Updated Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 9:34 am
Keith Powell with his wife Denise and their grandchildren, Dillan, Mollie and Poppy

Today marks a year since national lockdown was imposed in the UK - when life took a dramatic shift for the people of Chorley.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson placed tight restrictions on travel and mixing with other people in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.

“The coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced for decades – and this country is not alone,” the PM said on March 23, 2020.

“The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will be sadly lost.”

A word we now use as though we’ve been saying it forever, lockdown is part of our vocabulary when previously we had probably only heard it used on the news in connection with a military or security incident.

And with lockdown came social distancing, queues at the shops and panic buying, masks, hand washing, shop closures, and so on.

We were afraid, we were entering a terrifying health scare the likes of which we’d never experienced before.

People were dying here at home, in Europe and all over the world and we feared for our lives - scared to go out, get close to people, to touch, to breath in the air.

Chorley bus driver Keith Powell, who worked in Chorley and Leyland, was one of the tragic victims of the pandemic.

His daughter Sarah Iddon revealed the impact of her father’s death on the family, recalling: “On Saturday the 7th November 2020, our dad, and a much-loved husband to our mum Denise, tested positive for Covid-19.

“Due to dad’s health complications, we knew that this virus could potentially make him very unwell.

“As the following week passed, dad’s health deteriorated rapidly.

“On Sunday 15th November my mum called for an ambulance as dad was having breathing difficulties and became unresponsive when talking to him.”

She continued; “On dad’s arrival to Royal Preston Hospital, he was rushed straight through to critical care where he was put on 90 per cent oxygen. Despite treatment, the doctors confirmed later that day that there was no more that could be done to save dad and our lives were shattered.

“Due to our mum and our brother Nathan self-isolating, they were unable to be with dad in his final hours.”

Keith’s son Gareth and Sarah, however, were able to be by his side, to comfort him in his final hours.

Sarah said: “As a family, we had no choice but to say our final goodbyes over an iPad that was placed at the end of dad’s bed.

“Covid-19 has completely shattered our lives and changed our family forever.

“Covid does not care who you are, or how it affects people and their lives.

“Dad would still be here today if it wasn’t for Covid-19.”

Each one of our experiences over the past year will have been different – yet much the same too.

Hundreds of local families have grieved the loss of a loved one – and, in some cases, loved ones – to Covid.

Many more have been forced to find a way to cope with the anxiety of continuing to work at a time Government bigwigs were telling us to stay holed up indoors as much as possible, lest we get infected.

Youngsters ignored their xbox and Playstation consoles as they sat down to learn from home and parents underwent refresher courses in English and Maths.

Medics, many of whom shun the ‘hero’ label bestowed on them by the grateful public, have witnessed horrors on the coronavirus frontline which have left them in therapy with mental health conditions often suffered by war vets.

Others have been frustrated by perceived Government failures, misled by damaging and made-up claims of conspiracies, angered at curbs on our personal freedoms, and even embittered by the inconvenience of being asked to wear masks in shops and on public transport.

And some, it is certain, will have escaped any ill fate and had a relatively ‘good’ 12 months; perhaps furloughed from a job they dislike and fortunate enough to dodge any personal scrapes with a disease that has claimed the lives of more than 2.5 million lives worldwide and infected almost 120 million more.

But life changed for everyone and the past year has seemingly seen time slow to a halt and gather speed at the same time.

The little things we all took for granted – a kickabout in the park, a girls’ night in with wine and Chinese food, even sitting in a coffee shop watching the world go by – were stripped from us in the most severe peacetime crackdown on our ability to live life as we choose.

And yet we are still here, to remember, commemorate, express gratitude, and bounce back together.

A year on, coronavirus, of Covid 19 has taken its toll of human life and continues to do so as we learn to live and hopefully survive with it.

Chorley will today be falling silent to remember those who have lost their battle with Covid-19 and applaud those who have carried us through the pandemic over the past 12 months.

Over the past year, the country has been placed under three lockdowns.

And now, Chorley reflects on the past 12 months and looks to the future as the vaccine rollout continues and infection rates drop.

Councillor Alistair Bradley, Leader of Chorley Council said, “We are in full support of the National commemoration on 23 March for all those we have lost to covid-19 and to pay tribute to our front line workers who have so worked so incredibly hard over the last 12 months to save lives and ensure the safety of our communities.

“We will be taking part in the national minutes’ silence to honour those who have sadly lost their lives and will be displaying our flags at half-mast to mark the occasion. We will also be getting involved with the commemoration regionally on our social media channels.

“I encourage all our residents to get involved in the nationwide ‘beacon of remembrance’ on their doorsteps by beaming phones, candles and torches into the night sky at 8pm.”

Leader of South Ribble Council Paul Foster said the past 12 months were the ‘hardest we have had to face in history.’

He said, “It is vital that we all take a moment to reflect today – one year since the UK’s first covid lockdown.

“At South Ribble, we fully support the National commemoration and we will be marking the occasion by lowering our flags to half-mast and participating in the National minutes’ silence at noon.

“We wish to honour those who have sadly lost their lives to the awful disease and pay tribute to those on the front line who are working tirelessly to save lives on a daily basis.”

Boris Johnson said he will observe the minute’s silence at noon privately, while the head of the NHS Sir Simon Stevens has also gave his support.

Mr Johnson said: “This has been an incredibly difficult year for our country. My thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones, and who have not been able to pay tribute to them in the way they would have wanted.

“As we continue to make progress against the virus, I want to thank people for the sacrifices they continue to make.”

The Diocesan Bishop for The Church of England in Lancashire (Blackburn Diocese) has encouraged people across the county to join in with the National Day of Reflection.

Many parishes and schools across the Diocese will be marking the day in different ways; whilst Blackburn Cathedral (Lancashire’s Anglican Cathedral) will be lighting more than 4000 candles in commemoration of all the lives lost in the County to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The Marie Curie charity has organised the Day of Reflection and The Church of England nationally is one of several organisations supporting the day.

Rt Rev Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, said: “I encourage people of all ages in Lancashire to participate in this National Day of Reflection. It will be a sombre moment for all of us as we take the opportunity to prayerfully reflect on the past year and the many losses we’ve suffered as a result of the pandemic.

“Many of our fellow citizens have been unable to grieve in the way they would expect to for precious loved ones who have died. Whilst we must give thanks and praise to God for signs of hope with the rollout of the vaccination programme, it is important to acknowledge how difficult this past 12 months has been for everyone.

“That’s why we have encouraged people in parishes across Lancashire to keep the minute’s silence and mark this occasion in other ways, particularly in prayer and worship on the day.

“Do join us in that prayer and silence. If you are not able to break for a minute at the allotted time, why not take a moment later in the day to reflect?”

On the Day of Reflection more than 4000 candles will also be lit in Blackburn Cathedral. Other Cathedrals across the country are marking the event in similar ways.

The Dean of Blackburn, The Very Rev Peter Howell Jones will lead one minute’s silence at the Cathedral at noon, which will be followed by the tolling of the cathedral bell. The Dean will be joined in the candle lighting by members of the local community, including civic and public health leaders.

The Dean said: “Almost every person has been affected in one way or another during the last 12 months and we cannot, and must not, underestimate the human impact of the pandemic across our nation. As a place of faith we have to recognise that and look at ways to help and support our communities.”