COVID must not dictate our future

THE summer of 2020 is one we will all want to forget. We thought it would be the summer when no one wanted to visit our town, which in recent times has emerged as one of the most popular resorts along the south coast.

And for the first few weeks of lockdown, due to the coronavirus pandemic, that was undoubtedly the case. When lockdown was introduced in March, with shops, pubs, cafes, restaurants all having to close, we feared the worse.

We knew there would be casualties but they have been few and far between; to a large extent these were nullified by the generous financial support from the government.

Most of all, we have been thankful that we are living in the South West where there has been fewer cases and deaths than any other region of the country. So you have every reason to thank whatever God you worship for that one undeniable fact – we live in one of the safest places in England.

As someone in the high risk category with a lot of living left in me (hopefully), I give thanks every day. I admit there were times when I was scared witless.

During a 76-day lockdown I wrote a 1,000-word daily blog on the battle against COVID-19 and how the town was coping – 176,000 words, a small book. It was my intention to have kept the blog running until the contagion was no more and then publish a book on how a small Dorset town survived the pandemic.

The trouble was I was overdosing on bad news and it was starting to affect my ability to cope. So I decided to get back to my proper job.

I didn’t realise until I stopped the blog how many were reading it and that some were relying on my musings rather than watching the disturbing television coverage.

There were, of course, some who disagreed with my views vigorously but many others have since stopped me, even some of those who usually cross the street when they see me coming, and said how much they appreciated it. I am grateful for that.

What has amazed me is how Lyme has bounced back since lockdown was eased and how many people have converged on the town during the few weeks of lovely weather.

True, it was a different crowd than might otherwise have been on holiday in more, shall we say, racy resorts. Not all of them were very pleasant with a great deal of abuse being handed out to those working in our hospitality and retail outlets.

The pubs and cafes went to extraordinary lengths to keep their customers and staff safe but on certain days no one would have believed the contagion was still raging across the world.

This week things have quietened down and our traders will be hoping for an Indian summer so they can recoup some of their lost business earlier in the summer.

Whilst business has not been so profitable during the last couple of peak months, it has not been as bad as many expected.

The numbers of people descending on Lyme and the resulting traffic congestion, the worst I can remember, is undoubtedly going to lead to debate and argument over whether Lyme will fully recover and, if so, how will that be approached.

I think we must make sure that whatever decisions and courses of action are taken we don’t allow the COVID experience to dictate how the town moves forward in the future.

The volume of visitors, with all the negative matters this has in toll, has to be addressed at some time in the future. We must remember we are only the custodians of Lyme’s greatest asset – the town’s sheer beauty – and not the creators.

We owe it to those who have gone before us and those that will follow, that Lyme’s unique attraction has to be protected.

Is this Lyme’s utopia?

THIS is how Cobb Gate will look if a radical rethinking of Lyme’s traffic issues comes to fruition. Vehicle free streets, wider pavements, grassy banks. What the Royal College of Art describe as “Lyme Regis Utopia”.

We were also sent another photo described at “Lyme Regis Dystopia” (definition – “an imagined state or society in which there is great suffering”). We are not publishing that after the summer we’ve had. We have suffered enough.

This is all part of a project led by the Royal College of Art to reimagine public spaces and transport systems in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lyme is one of three rural communities in the UK for a research project which is being championed by town councillor and environmentalist Belinda Bawden.

The Royal College of Art is asking for residents to send in their views. To date, 38 people have taken advantage of this invitation.

This will certainly be considered as “utopia” by many, locals and visitors alike. How nice it would be to be able to wander around the streets of Lyme without choking on vehicle fumes and taking our lives in our hands.

I am not so sure some of the traders would think it a utopian solution, however, and I predict some interesting debate in the offing.

But one question has to be asked in these days of cut backs and high unemployment, how much will all this cost and who will be paying for it?

Come on Lyme. Give us your views.

tourist information centre staff
TRUDI Robson, Miranda Horsfield and Fiona Common from Lyme Regis Tourist Information Centre, pictured with bouquets at their farewell party

We will miss the TIC girls

MUCH sadness in Lyme last week, especially among the holiday traders, when the Tourist Information Centre closed its doors for the very last time.

The writing has been on the wall for some time after Lyme Regis Town Council gave Dorset Council, which was running the TIC, notice to quit their premises in Guildhall Cottage because they need the downstairs area to conform to disability regulations with no access for wheelchair users in their offices above.

There are very few such facilities run by councils these days with so much instant information being available online. It was likely Dorset Council, expecting a £43million deficit this year, would have closed the TIC, said to cost £87,000 a year.

It is said that both councils are in discussion over the future of the service but whatever conclusion they arrive at, the TIC as we know and love will not return.

The service has been brilliantly run by Trudi Robson, Miranda Horsfield and Fiona Common and it’s a shame their services have not been retained.

At LymeOnline we would like to thank them for their kindness shown to us in promoting our paper. In the two years we have been going, they have distributed thousands of our papers and magazines.

Other organisations in the town will miss them as well, especially the Marine Theatre for operating a booking services, and the accommodation operators for helping to fill their rooms.

Tory councillors out of touch

I WAS astonished to open my Twitter account this morning and see that Dorset councillors are considering increasing their expenses.

If it happens, it will add £101,000 per annum to the council’s costs at a time when they are predicting a deficit of £43million and sacking staff (aka the TIC at Lyme to save operational costs of £87,000). In the real world virtually everyone in the private sector has had to take a salary cut.

I don’t underestimate the amount of time councillors spend running Tory-controlled Dorset, but if they think the council taxpayers of Dorset are going to accept this they are more out of touch with these difficult times than I thought possible.

Woodmead Halls
About Philip Evans 815 Articles
Veteran journalist and newspaper manager Philip Evans has worked in the publishing industry for more than half a century. He started out as a reporter for Pulman’s Weekly News as a young man and went on to work for an international publishing company in the UK, South Africa and Australia before returning to Lyme Regis where he is still reporting on local events as he has done for more than 53 years.

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