JEREMY HUDSON reflects on the impact of the pandemic on Wimbledon.
An email circulated on 2 March 2020 by Canon John Clark, Parish Priest of the Sacred Heart Church, Edge Hill, to his parishioners informing them that Wimbledon College was in lockdown “due to a member of staff being infected with coronavirus” was the first indication that the virus (Covid-19) had reached Wimbledon. The email contained a list of stringent measures the church was obliged to adopt to prevent the spread of the contagion with which we are now all too familiar.
By 1 May in the UK there were over 177,000 confirmed cases, with 27,500 deaths of which 163 were in Merton. The numbers continue to increase, more slowly, as Government-imposed restrictions gradually control the disease’s spread.
These numbers cannot convey the suffering of everyone affected by the pandemic, and we offer sincere condolences to all who have lost loved ones. An early victim in Wimbledon was our dear friend James Leek, whose obituary is on page 3. The news of his sudden death was deeply shocking, bringing home the threat that we all faced.
On 23 March the Government’s lockdown started, with the message “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives”. Restrictions had an immediate effect on all lives; the Society was obliged to close the Museum indefinitely, to postpone our May AGM, and to cancel or postpone planned lectures, visits and walks.
However, work has not stopped. The Planning & Environment Committee continues to monitor planning applications and environmental issues. The Museum refurbishment project, and the new Society website are progressing well. Even the Local History Group has become adept at Zoom meetings! The Society’s Twitter feed is updated daily, with local news and lovely photographs supplied by members. The quarterly newsletter will continue, but from now on will be circulated digitally wherever possible, to help save both costs and the planet.
Lockdown has had a massive impact on Wimbledon. The vast majority of people followed the Government’s instruction to stay at home, only venturing out for exercise and essential shopping (or, when possible, arranging home deliveries). Schools and churches have been closed, with online lessons and some services streamed live. There has been no live sport – AFC Wimbledon played their last match on 7 March, but work on their new stadium continues. The cricket season has been delayed, and, most importantly for us, the Tennis Championships cancelled.
The Town Centre has been eerily quiet; very few shops, and no pubs, cafes, etc, are open. Both road and air traffic have been noticeably less. Those who are out and about studiously maintain ‘social distancing’, and many wear face-masks. There are fears for the future of many local businesses.
But it has not been all doom and gloom. The weather has been lovely, and many of us now realise how we have taken the beautiful Common so much for granted until now! With less pollution, the air is sweeter, and visibility towards the Surrey Hills is clearer than in living memory.
We have got to know our neighbours better and there have been innumerable personal acts of kindness, as well as major charitable initiatives such as Merton’s Mutual Aid Group uniting local organisations to support vulnerable neighbours. WURA circulated a regularly updated list of available food shops and local services.
In mid-May lockdown started to ease slightly. The Government’s instruction changed to “Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives.” It is hard to predict the lasting effect on our community. What impact will be felt on Heathrow’s expansion, Crossrail 2, the Council’s Town Centre plans? It may take a while to adjust to “the new normal”.