What has the last year been like for you and the Council?
It’s been a deeply difficult year for all of us, and for our communities. We’ve seen terrible loss and have all been impacted in some way. We’ve sadly seen over a 150% increase in unemployment in the borough, and the crisis around poverty is likely to be with us long into the future.
The pandemic has also made many people very anxious, so we have a big increase in those needing extra support with mental health issues. So the Council have set up a range of services, whether it’s delivering testing, supporting vaccinations or helping out with food parcel delivery.
But the other story of the year has been the extraordinary way the communities have come together. We’ve seen neighbours support each other, the flourishing of mutual aid groups, and the way our voluntary sector stepped up, along with businesses – many of whom were having a tough time themselves – to come out and support the community. You discover a lot about where you live in tough times, and it’s been clear Camden is a place that deeply cares.
When Covid infection rates elsewhere in London and the UK were really high, Camden’s thankfully remained fairly low. Why do you think that was?
It’s something that we are looking into, because we do have a lot of problems here that are sadly associated with higher impact of the disease, whether that’s overcrowding, residents who can’t afford not to go out to work, or the disproportionate impact on particular Black and Asian communities. Many people have still suffered and we’re not totally out of the woods yet, but again, I think the community have really stepped up and listen to the messages, and that’s made a huge difference.
We’ve also seen the importance of green spaces, and Camden is a particularly green borough. People have told us how much they appreciate that. I also know that our public heath team has been extraordinary, working with schools and businesses to keep people safe. We obviously haven’t got everything right all the time, but I think if everyone continues to be careful as we open up, then we can continue to make good progress.