'Almost like the population of South Ribble being wiped out': council backs call for Covid remembrance day

A Leyland woman who is calling for a national day of remembrance for all who have lost their lives to Covid says she was “overwhelmed” after her local council threw its weight behind the campaign.

By Paul Faulkner
Saturday, 30th January 2021, 3:02 pm
Updated Sunday, 31st January 2021, 1:52 am

As the Post reported earlier this month, Rachael Lidgett has started a parliamentary petition to try to persuade the government to designate 23rd March - the anniversary of the date last year when the UK first went into lockdown - a public holiday.

She was moved to make the appeal after seeing her own fit and healthy father, Christopher Cooper, pass away from Covid in December - at the age of just 63.

Her petition was spotted by South Ribble borough councillors Matthew Tomlinson and Jacky Alty who brought forward a resolution calling on the district authority to support it. The council will now use its own communications operation to help publicise Rachael’s proposal for a fitting commemoration.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Rachael Lidgett wants the country to come together to remember the victims of Covid

It sparked an emotional debate amongst members at a meeting of the full council, in which Cllr Tomlinson said the grim UK milestone of 100,000 Covid-related deaths that was passed this week needed putting into context in order for people to fully appreciate its shocking scale.

The borough’s councillors then heard a striking local comparison that could not fail to hit home.

“It’s almost the equivalent of the entire population of South Ribble being wiped off the map,” Cllr Tomlinson reflected.

“When the numbers are so large, it would be too easy to lose sight of the fact that these are 100,000 individual people - each one gone too soon, each one mourned by a family bereaved too early.

Christopher Cooper was previously fit and healthy before passing away in December 2020 after contracting Covid

“It would be so easy for [Christopher’s] family to lash out, be angry or indulge in self-pity. But instead, to her credit, Rachel Lidgett has decided to try and do something positive.”

Cllr Will Adams, an NHS nurse, was visibly moved as he spoke in support of a campaign born out of a brutal year of personal tragedies like that suffered by Rachael and her family - but which those on the hospital frontline have felt as a devastating, collective blow.

“Behind the 100,000 people, there is a story - and my colleagues and I are part of that story.

“I apologise for the emotion, but we rarely get time to reflect, because once we have finished work...we are usually required to come straight back in - to be a part of somebody else’s story, somebody’s story who we will go absolutely to [our] wits’ end to help [ensure] a positive outcome for.

Cllr Will Adams told members that the NHS and the people working in it are "the best thing about this country" (pictured here upon his election in 2019)

“I’m proud to do the job I do and to be around the colleagues that I am - they really are the best thing about this country and the NHS is the best thing about this country,” said Cllr Adams, who added that health service staff “deserve better” from the government.

Cllr Stephen Thurlbourn told the meeting that it was the hidden impact of the pandemic that made its true horror so difficult to comprehend.

“We don’t see it - it’s not [something like] a gulf war. It’s the nature of the virus that it’s not fought on the streets or on beaches, it’s fought in closed wards and fought behind masks.”

Cllr Margaret Smith condemned the minority who “don't seem to care” and are “putting other people’s lives at risk”, while Cllr Paul Wharton-Hardman - a volunteer ambulance worker - highlighted how Covid was touching the lives even of those who had not contracted the disease.

“I have seen...the mental health implications that this has had on single people, families and young people.

“I went to a horrific incident over Christmas, involving a young person who had tried to take their life - and that was basically because of the impact Covid had had on him personally,” he recalled.

Speaking after watching the meeting online, Rachael Lidgett said she hoped the backing of the council would extend across the borough and beyond - and drive her petition to the 10,000 signatures required to secure a written response from the government. It has so far been signed by just over 7,000 people.

“After the Prime Minister's speech the day the death toll went past 100,000, I did get the impression that the country will eventually come up with some kind of remembrance or memorial.

‘“I think it's so important for us to do something. This isn't about me or my Dad - it’s about recognition of what the whole country has been through.

“I was so grateful that Cllrs Tomlinson and Alty reached out to me and I really hope we can get the petition up to the point where it would receive a government response - I’d feel like I’d really achieved something,” Rachael said.

She added that she understood why some people were uncomfortable with the idea of a public holiday as part of any Covid remembrance.

The Liberal Democrat group on South Ribble Borough Council indicated their intention to abstain in the vote on supporting her campaign, although the motion was ultimately accepted as being carried without a vote because of the evident support in the chamber.

Broadoak Lib Dem ward councillor Angela Turner told the meeting that while the local party fully supported a day of remembrance for those who have lost their lives to Covid - and also in recognition of key workers - it would have difficulty supporting the “well-intentioned” motion.

“We have to question whether [the council’s] communication outlet is the appropriate place to promote individual campaigns and petitions - and if this one, what next?

“There is also the issue of the petition calling for a public holiday, giving greater prominence to the victims of Covid over all other tragedies and loss,” Cllr Turner said.

Rachael explained that she had added a request for a public holiday to her original idea for a day of remembrance in order to distinguish it from an existing parliamentary petition that had not gained much traction.

“My petition had to be slightly different in order for it to be accepted.

“I’m not daft, I know there are cost implications to creating a bank holiday. But we have done it for royal events before now and if this pandemic doesn’t justify one, what would?”