I was looking forward to 2020 more than any other year of my career. There were two reasons: firstly, the Tories had just demolished the Northern ‘red wall’. For the first time, I was surrounded by blue MPs on Teesside; a fascinating prospect which promised plenty of stories. Secondly, 2020 marked 21 years of my career with ITV. A milestone that I’ve reached in what feels like the blink of an eye.
So the new year dawned with renewed confidence and anticipation. And yes, there was news in the far East of a virus that partly shared its name with a popular beer, but so what? I confidently told my colleagues that I was long enough in the tooth to remember SARS and EBOLA. Pictures of people wearing masks in China was nothing new.
I should have known better. As a journalist I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. The first cases in the region were confirmed changing everything overnight. Jolly scepticism turned to shocked realisation that this illness was on its way into our schools, our hospitals, our care homes, our newsroom. Our lives.
Tyne Tees' reaction was swift. Working from home was mandatory, very strict social distancing and hand hygiene for colleagues who HAD to be in the office. Our lively meetings, usually held in a small room with staff squeezed sharing story ideas, were replaced with online meetings. For the first time, I saw my colleagues’ taste in wallpaper.
Also, for the first time, we were discussing not the big story of the day, but the many big stories of the day. Every morning, we had multiple choices of a lead story: the latest press conference from the prime minister, the PPE scandal, the schools’ closure, the furlough scheme. It was dizzying.
But as great as the practical challenges of this year have been, far greater have been the emotional challenges. I began reporting on care homes where the virus cruelly claimed such easy victims. I write this as the daughter of a man who’s a care home resident. After months of visiting him every day without fail, the doors were suddenly slammed shut. I’ve not been the same room as him since February. I interviewed the relatives of other care home residents and for the first time I truly shared the feelings of my interviewees: the pain, frustration and helplessness of being denied access to a loved one. A necessary evil I know, but one that’s been unbearably cruel. I truly dread the impact it’s had on the mental wellbeing of those whose physical health we’ve worked so hard to protect.
2020 is the year everything fell out of place. Now though, we’re on the brink of a new year. What will 2021 bring? I’d be foolish to even begin to predict. Wiser to simply hope for the things this awful year has taught me really matter: that those we cherish are safe and happy.
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