Philip Evans: My Isolation Diary – Day 6 (Sunday, March 22 2020)
BEING a baby boomer with a number of health issues, I’ve accepted the advice of the government – reluctantly – to isolate for 12 weeks.
We have shut down our office for the time being and are working from home. As a result my contribution to putting together last week’s 54th issue of LymeOnline was minimal, but I knew Francesca, my daughter who edits the paper, would not be fazed by this.
I’ve been around local newspapers for a very long time but I firmly believe the issue Francesca produced last week, with its comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus crisis, was a brilliant example of responsible community journalism.
She’s my daughter so it’s natural to sing her praises. But she knows full well that I would not choose such language if it was not deserved. Her weekly news bulletin on our website, devoted entirely to the crisis, was also a fine example of why local media is the most trusted in the country.
It would seem I am not the only one who believes this to be the case. Since Friday I have seen and received dozens of tributes to LymeOnline’s coverage of how this crisis is hurting Lyme Regis.
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, wasted no time in ringing me to pass on his congratulations to Francesca after reading LymeOnline on Friday morning. He also called her personally and I received a number of calls from other journalists in the region including some of my main competitors over the years.
There is no doubt that Lyme is now being hit particularly hard by this fast-spreading disease, particularly those in the hospitality industry who have been shut down by the government.
There could well be long-term casualties; some may never recover from a prolonged period of closure even with financial help from Westminster. And we may well be in lockdown by the end of the week.
It will also be a very testing time for LymeOnline. The local press has been in decline for several years now, with hundreds of papers having gone out of business, and small towns like Lyme Regis can no longer sustain their very own newspaper.
The only way LymeOnline – arguably the most popular paper ever in the town – only exists because it is a community not-for-profit project.
We rely on traditional advertising revenue but this is not sufficient to sustain a local newspaper and we depend greatly on sponsorship and donations from readers and supporters to survive.
Since last Monday’s bombshell announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the severity of the crisis and the previously unheard measures to be introduced to slow down the pandemic, we have lost a significant amount sponsorship and 90 per cent of our advertising revenue.
We are hoping to continue publishing twice a month for the immediate future but we will have to reduce the number of pages from 24 to 16. It takes a major effort to fill 24 pages with the 50-60 stories from Lyme, Charmouth and Uplyme, a similar number of photos, which we cram into LymeOnline every fortnight.
But with no council meetings and no local events to cover, filling 16 pages is going to require a mammoth effort. If we go into lockdown, the paper will appear online as a digital edition.
But we will do it to the best of our ability for as long as we can because I believe we offer a unique pubic service, keeping the people of Lyme, Charmouth and Uplyme updated on the fast moving coronavirus crisis. And we will continue to report on local matters 24/7 on our website.
It will be hard but I know I’m doing the right thing
Being a baby boomer and with a few health issues, I’m currently self-isolating, now into my second week, so my input into LymeOnline will be minimal for a few weeks but I know Francesca will cope, although I will miss working alongside her for such a long period. However, I know I am doing the right thing in the current climate.
Up until fairly recent I was reasonably fit after walking more than 200,000 steps in November in a bid to improve my diabetes, coupled with a strict carbs-free diet. In doing so I raised £600 for the Movember charity, lost a stone in weight and reduced my sugars to a level where I am close to remission and, hopefully, will shortly be medication free.
All this was interrupted by having my gallbladder removed in the New Year which has taken me a couple of months to recover from. I was just about to start my daily walk again when the coronavirus erupted and I have been confined to barracks since.
But Boris says it’s okay to go for a walk so long as I keep at arms length from all those who are out and about. So I did a couple of strolls early in the morning last week and this week I’m back to a brisk 5,000-step walk before Lyme wakes up, which is helping me from going stir-crazy being confined to home-working for the rest of the day.
This morning (Sunday) I did my walk a little later and it was a glorious early spring morning with the sun shining throughout the day. The sea was quite choppy with a strong wind, the tide was out and the dog lovers were out in force with their pets dashing up and down the beach from which they may soon by barred 12 months of the year.
Normally on Mothering Sunday we would be spending the day with our children. Our daughter Zoe and husband Barry were planning to pop over from Galway before Ireland went into virtual lockdown having already lost their money in the Flybe demise. Francesca popped in with a bouquet for her mum and stayed for dinner with the three of us sitting two metres apart.
We had also expected to see our two granddaughters, Ella and Freya, who live in London, but this intention also fell on stoney ground because of the virus and it’s likely to be weeks before we can visit our son Darren and his partner Jenny.
So, for the first time this year, we spent a few hours in the garden and I was slightly disturbed to hear Mrs E saying we would have much more time to devote to the garden now. That was the royal “we” of course.
This is the first of a regular Isolation Diary I will be writing with it being posted on our website under the blogs section. They won’t all be this long but it will help me to stave off total boredom in the next 11 weeks.