Wokingham.Today

REVIEW OF THE YEAR: April 2020 – Lockdown life and the mad dash for PPE

April 2020
Wokingham Paper front pages from April 2020

LOCKDOWN was the new normal for the country as stay at home became a fact of life. Pupils remained off school and it seemed quite jolly despite the increasing spread of the virus.

But it was not without problems.

PPE became the buzzword, as demand outstripped supply.

A cottage industry started to sprung up, masterminded by Leighton Park School,  with volunteers and groups producing face masks using 3D printers and plastic sheeting and we featured several such initiatives across the month. There was also a team in Twyford who made surgical scrubs to help the NHS.

And in Wokingham, Intersurgical was hard at work ramping up its production of medical grade equipment designed to help protect the NHS. More than 500 people worked round the clock to help create the right pieces, and saw designers, lab technicians and sales reps temporarily switch to the warehouse to meet demand.

It was a team effort: support had come from companies such as Brown Bag which supplied lunches to the Molly Millars Lane company.

Intersurgical
Teams at Intersurgical are working fast to create equipment for NHS teams working at the Nightingale Hopsital. Pictures: Intersurgical

Wokingham Borough Council also appealed for donations of masks, gloves and aprons so its supply of PPE didn’t run out, and there were also calls for virus tests to be used in care homes to help avoid Covid-19 from spreading.

There were concerns over the pressure that Covid-19 was placing on care homes in the borough, with some not having enough support and in others stories of residents being placed from straight from hospital even if they had the virus.

In the end, Wokingham Borough Council turned to the Government and said no to accepting patients into its care homes until testing for Covid-19 could be guaranteed.

Professor Ben Cowling hoped that the lockdown would see the UK “avoid the situation unfolding in parts of Spain and France” where infection rates were rising rapidly. He also encouraged people to wear face coverings when going shopping, saying it could help protect a healthy wearer from infection.

The One Front Door scheme had been busy, helping 370 people in a week, as well as receiving donations of food to send out. They included chocolates from the Reading branch of Thorntons. Foodbanks accepted food donations and made their wants lists clear.

Hare Hatch Sheeplands put in place a scheme to try and help Twyford villagers receive their groceries, and gave away free face shields at a time when they were still a novelty.

Support for businesses started appearing, with the council opening a £10,000 Small Business Grant scheme and another grant for Retail, Leisure and Hospitality sectors. Cllr John Kaiser encouraged people to apply. By the end of the month, the council was given £7.3 million by the Government to help its efforts among the community.

In a sign of the times, foreshadowing the weekly clap for the NHS, signs starting appearing the borough, one saying ‘Thank you front line staff’. A ‘Thank You NHS’ was painted on to the road in Twyford, and rainbows sprung up in people’s windows.

Aayushi Chopra
Aayushi Chopra with her dhol

In Winnersh, the clap was led by teenager Asyushi Chopra, a talented Dhol drummer. Just down the road, her near neighbour Steve Block performed Somewhere Over The Rainbow on his cornet, a weekly impromptu concert that was much admired.

Reading Scottish Pipe Band major Ron Patterson
Pipe Major Ron Patterson from Reading Scottish Pipe Band leads neighbours in the 8pm Clap For Carers

And in Emmbrook, Pipe Major Ron Paterson gave a blast on his bagpipes as he led his neighbourhood clap.

Christopher Elvin
Christopher Elvin with Sparkles the Unicorn Picture: Tony Johnson

This community spirit was echoed in other initiatives and schemes. We reported on Winnersh man Christopher Elvin who bought a load of funny costumers and went for a daily walk wearing one of them. Sparkles the Unicorn, Rasher the Pig and a host of others were pressed into use (see page 7).

Another idea that caught imaginations was Spoonyville. The first appeared to crop up in Robinhood Lane in Winnersh. Creative residents added their own wooden spoons decorated as different types of people – musicians, children’s characters, a T-Rex and the Queen were among the initial 40 creations. They’ve been saved for posterity by Winnersh Parish Council.

A Woodley youngster, Dexter Rosier, helped raise £600 for the NHS by organising a quiz. Colourful questions set by the seven-year-old spelt out a hidden message. He vowed to create a second quiz if he raised £1,000.

In Wargrave, villagers clubbed together to present a cheque for £2,000 to Praba and Murthy Sreemurthy, who run their village shop.

It was to express their gratitude for the way in which the Sreemurthys had kept the store operating during the pandemic.

thames valley police
Police were stopping drivers this morning to check they were on essential journeys. Picture: Phil Creighton

Thames Valley Police set up roadblocks in some places in a bid to encourage people to stay at home.

Optimistically, rock band The Filf announced plans to go on a truck tour of Wokingham to cheer people up when the pandemic was over. Unfortunately, it’s not been safe to do so, and the band remain in the garage.

Sir John Redwood argued on his blog that the lockdown should end urgently, finding other ways to protect the vulnerable. But with the World Health Organisation suggesting otherwise and France staying closed until May 11, ending early would seem dangerous.

And there was confusion after a chain letter containing Bible verses and comments about the dangers of a Covid-19 vaccine, along with a £5 note, was posted anonymously to homeowners in parts of Wokingham.

Council meetings started again, but in an online format – as we joked, it meant that we wouldn’t know if the councillors were wearing any trousers under the desk. Originally it was thought that the public would have to register to tune into an audio link, but the reality was a Microsoft Teams meeting broadcast on YouTube Some initial teething troubles have now settled down and the council has kept to its usual programme of meetings.

Elsewhere, vandals damaged a bus which Shinfield St Mary’s Junior School had intended to use as an additional classroom. Generous residents rallied round to help with the repairs. The vandals also damaged floodlights at Shinfield Tennis Club as well as the windows of Davis Tate in the village.

Luckmore Drive Earley oak tree
The oak tree that fell in Luckmore Drive, Earley Picture: Wokingham Borough Council

On Easter Monday, an historic oak breathed its last and fell on to Luckmore Drive in Earley. Thought to be 300 years old, it thankfully fell into the road and not the homes nearby.

The trunk is to be turned into benches, and The Wokingham District Veteran Tree Association mourned its passing.

The lockdown had a knock-on effect on your favourite local newspaper. Like many publications, advertising revenue dipped forcing a reduction in pagination. However, there was still the same content produced as normal, even though some team members were on furlough.

We also introduced our new centre spread featuring a mixture of off-beat, interesting, quirky and different stories from every corner of the borough … and beyond.

The potpourri is hugely popular and we’re intending to keep it when everyday life resumes.

Pebble
Still friends: Chloe has forgiven puppy Pebble for chewing her spectacles

One of our favourite stories from this was of a dog called Pebble.

He chewed up 12-year-old Chloe’s glasses while she enjoyed a night in a tent. Specsavers in Denmark Street rushed to the rescue – and her story later formed part of a TV advert for the company.

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