Space for Everyone

Dear Cllr Innes and Ms Patterson

Firstly, I’d like to thank you on behalf of my family for the work that you and colleagues are doing to ensure the safety of East Lothian’s population during the Covid19 crisis. I know you must be working around the clock to protect our elderly and vulnerable residents, ensure that our schools continue to provide education online and maintain all the lifeline services that are so desperately needed.

Now we have adjusted to the immediate crisis situation, we are already thinking ahead to a world beyond the lockdown; we know there will be different challenges as people try to re-establish connections with friends and family, get back to work and education within continued social distancing restrictions. It’s vital that decisions are made now that will safeguard residents, and reduce our impact on the NHS, over the coming months.

I’m writing to ask you to consider measures that will create and maintain safe spaces, particularly in our towns, for people as we start this next ‘new normal’ for the following reasons:

Air pollution will impact those already most vulnerable to Coronavirus

During lockdown there has been a reduced level of motorised traffic, and consequently reduced levels of air pollution. Evidence suggests that our shielded communities and most vulnerable residents are likely to be at more risk if air pollution starts to increase, with emerging evidence suggesting that Coronovirus could be transmitted in pollution particles. This new information only adds to the body of research that shows the negative impact of air pollution on human health.

Maintaining low levels of motorised traffic will be vital in enabling our most at risk residents to come out of isolation. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that low levels of car use has enabled more people to cycle safely for essential journeys, as well as their daily exercise, which will have a positive impact on all our health and wellbeing.

Additional space is required for those with impaired mobility to have equal and safe access to services

Decades of land use decisions have lead to prioritisation of motorised transport in our towns and cities, with limited street space dedicated to pavements and separated cycle lanes. Whilst this has always been a challenge for people that walk and cycle for transport, the need for social distancing means it is now particularly difficult for people that use wheelchairs, older people and blind or visually impaired people. Whilst we all have responsibility to be considerate and reduce the risk of close contact we do now need reallocation of road space to provide more room for safe walking, cycling and wheeling, particularly in town centres and along popular leisure routes.

We risk exacerbating existing socio-economic inequalities

It’s true, as the First Minister stated, that ‘we’re all in this together’, but it has been widely recognised that we’re in the same storm, not the same boat; we know that those who are already most disadvantaged will have worse outcomes from this crisis. We know that women and in lower income households are more reliant on public transport, which may carry an increased risk of infection if we do experience a ‘second wave’. Families without adequate space for children to play, people with no private outdoor space and families that do not have access to a car will benefit from additional safe public space to exercise and access services within walking, cycling and wheeling distance from their homes.

Towns and cities across the world are using temporary measures to enable key workers to cycle safely, and others are already looking at a road reallocation revolution instead of returning to ‘normal’.

There are no silver linings to this crisis, but enabling more people to walk and cycle safely, accessing shops and services without the need for a private car would be a long-term benefit to people in East Lothian.

It’s been reported that traffic is starting to return to our roads in some areas of Scotland, and it’s certainly felt that way on my regular cycle routes between Dunbar, Haddington and North Berwick this week.

I appreciate that you have competing priorities, limited resources and are no doubt worried for your own families as well as our communities across East Lothian. But now is the time to act on measures that are preventative and will make a significant difference to the health of our population in the weeks and months to come.

Yours sincerely, and with very best wishes to you and your families

The Forup Family

Normal 2.0

We’re still carrying on here with the aid of cycling and cake but, in the spirit of adaptation to new circumstances, are bringing gin cocktails in to the equation to welcome the weekend and set sail to our beloved Scottish islands – if just in our imagination.

There has been a two week ‘Easter holiday’ respite from the outpouring of Google Classroom, so one source of anxiety has been in abeyance at least, although trying to manage a child whilst conducting back to back Teams meetings probably wasn’t particularly well received by any of the parties getting half my attention. Always late to a party, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for audiobooks and particularly the varied works of David Walliams; his daily readings have provided light relief and distraction for at least one member of our household, although it has unfortunately increased the discussion of bottoms, toilets and associated fluids.

Obviously I’ve got nothing but the C19 version of first world problems; this beautiful and reflective blog by a GP in Hackney details the inequalities that the current situation is compounding better than anything else I’ve read. The daily tweets from Nursing Notes rip at my heart as I carry on avoiding the storm that is taking the lives of so many that already have a life of public service behind them.

The interweb is full of posts about adjustment to ‘the new normal’, a phrase that I’m completely over, despite it being just a few weeks old (see also furlough, social distancing and flattening the curve) as it seems an understated sanitisation of activity that incorporates working from home alongside the ever-present spectre of death. I’m glad to see the proponents of using the ‘great pause’ for self development have been shouted down by people suggesting that getting dressed and not drunk by 10am is a win.

Just four weeks in, and no real end in sight, and the commentary about what we don’t want to get back to has already started. There are no silver linings in a crisis that is costing so many so much, but it’s clear that we don’t want to go back to what was our normal. I’ve seen calls for ‘build back better’, but we need to ensure its not just improving the seating arrangements on the Titanic we were on. A just recovery will require a complete revolution in how we use our resources, for the benefit of all and not the few, in alignment with planetary capacity.

It’s probably no secret that my contribution to almost all issues, local to global, is that cycling is probably the answer. However, I’m well aware that asking our local authorities to do anything other than cope with providing essential services to the most vulnerable could be seen as insensitive. But looking at our streets it’s never been more clear that space allocation is set to prioritise the movement and storage of metal boxes, and not people on foot, bicycle, scooter or wheelchair.

If we don’t act now we risk coming out of lockdown straight into carmageddon and back to its negative impact on our long-term health.

My Twitterverse is an avalanche of the emergency responses other countries are making to provide more space for safe walking and cycling, and the long-term opportunities to create better cities that enable activity and access for all. I know those conversation are happening in Scotland, but we all need to play our part in supporting our politicians and officials to make choices now that will create the path to the future we want.

Pedal on Parliament are calling for #SpaceforDistancing, as enabling people to choose walking and cycling as lockdown ends will be vital in safeguarding the health and wellbeing of communities across Scotland. Out on our daily exercise yesterday it didn’t take long for my mini-campaigner to suggest pavements and footpaths around our town that aren’t adequate for safe distancing. Rest assured we’ll be practising our handwriting skills on this topic shortly.

It seems like there’s no time to waste, and reaching out to our decision makers is vital, but we also need to remember that there is a person behind every public sector and political social media account and email address, a human that is also worried about the future. They could be fearing for their key worker partner or scared that their parents won’t see the other side of this crisis. They could be covering for unwell colleagues, or simply overworked in our strained public services. In our passion for progress, let’s remember to be kind too and try to be the people remembered for compassion in a crisis – not just critics.

Keep calm and carry on with cycling and cake

At the time of writing cycling and cake are both legal, but judging by the media commentary on the Sunday sunshine tempting Londoners out of their homes the cycling element might not last for long.

Two weeks into lockdown and we are well aware of our household’s privilege, with a home that has enough room for solitary confinement, continued employment and sparsely populated, glorious outdoors available on our doorstep.

Like many households not yet in the eye of the Coronovirus storm, we are trying to keep calm and carry on by juggling work, home learning and monitoring the notifications from the local community resilience group. We each have our (different) preferred form of exercise but the Lesser Spotted Cycling Husband has gained some moral superiority as his is a manly display of digging for victory.

Being middle-aged with a prematurely born primary aged child has proved to be a reasonable training ground for coping with a global pandemic – we can wash hands with the best of them, understand that physical distance keeps you safe from people incubating disease and have not gone to a public house on a Friday night for almost a decade. We also know what it is to fear for the life of someone you love, and that placing your trust and hope in the NHS is rarely wrong.

The internet is awash with advice on how make best use of this pause in ‘normal’, but I’m finding that being in a pause is quite enough. At work I’m wading through the paperwork to ensure that we can soon provide useful and safe cycling services to key workers throughout the crisis. At home (conveniently co-located with work for the last four years) I’m trying not to let the unending flow of emails and learning activities into my son’s Google Classroom account give me parental performance anxiety.

To combat stress I’m relying on cycling and cake, having found through long-term use that both help me keep the balance I need to be a reasonable wife, parent and colleague. State sanctioned exercise once a day in the form of cycling feels slightly virtuous for once as it’s appeared as an actual directive from both NHS Scotland and Scottish Government.

The cake is perhaps less obviously virtuous but, given that my son’s interest in the contents of his Google Classroom is the inverse of mine, we’re looking for engaging learning activities in the wild and ‘baking’ has been the only activity that has ever induced him to voluntarily write anything down. We have already produced two cakes, pizza and a set of scones (of dubious quality) so at this rate we might manage enough content for a Coronavirus Cook Book by the end of lockdown, if absolutely nothing else.

Life has changed immeasurably, and perhaps forever, in ways that we can’t yet know. We do know that those already disadvantaged will come out worst from this global crisis, and some are just realising that ‘key worker’ is a term that applies to people that we pay the least. At the moment I’m just going to wait awhile in the pause, braced for what might come and with gratitude and awe of those that are fighting head on for us all.