By Helen Ford, Health Correspondent
As December cast its dark, damp shadow over the countryside, I was prompted to think back to March, and the start of the first lockdown. As I had taken my once-a-day walk - as regularly as I could - the weather had been similarly grey and cold. Yet, as much of daily life was turned upside down by COVID-19, there was something comforting about stepping into a timeless landscape; taking in its sights and sounds. From the trickle of water to the rush of wind through trees, the natural world provided respite in a world of unknowns.
At ITV Tyne Tees, our COVID-19 journey had begun in earnest on 31st January, when the first two patients to be confirmed with the virus were brought from York for treatment at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary. At the start of that day, I had been working on a report about the impact of Brexit on the NHS. By the time our programme went on air at 6pm, I was standing outside the RVI, telling our viewers what we knew so far. Thinking back, I am struck by how little any of us imagined how far COVID would change every aspect of our lives - or for how long.
Over the course of 2020, I have had the privilege of interviewing some of the health workers involved in fighting the virus, both on the front line and behind the scenes. I have also been moved by the experiences of COVID survivors who have spent weeks - sometimes months - in hospital, and who have recounted their stories to me. Listening to their sometimes harrowing descriptions, it is impossible to underestimate the extent to which the virus affected not only the individuals themselves, but their entire families. It's fair to say that all those interviews have left a huge impression on me.
In a year of such intensity, nature has provided a constant, and much-needed antidote. As late winter turned to spring, I swapped walking for gardening. Always a joy, time in the garden took on added significance. I welcomed perennial flowers like old friends, which, in the warmth of spring, erupted in a riot of colour. Chief among them were my aquilegias.
They may not be exotic plants, but their palate of blues, mauves and purples offered cheerfulness and calm. My patch of ground became a sanctuary, and one for which I was extremely grateful.
Now, as winter descends on the North East again, I am acutely aware that the next few months will not be easy. Yes, as we look ahead with a degree of trepidation, nature is providing a source of hope and inspiration once more. Nestled in the frosty soil are the first shoots of spring.
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