A year on: How Covid-19 has changed life in Beccles and Bungay

Sew and So's, Bungay.

Sew and So's, Bungay. - Credit: Andrew Atterwill

This week marks the first anniversary since the coronavirus outbreak changed daily life for everyone in Waveney and beyond.

News of the first confirmed Covid-19 cases in our area broke in the March 20 edition of the Beccles and Bungay Journal, along with the launch of our Here to Help campaign.

Our towns and villages were awash with kind-hearted volunteers offering extra support to the vulnerable in their communities, with a number of Facebook groups quickly established to help as many people as possible.

The Beccles and Bungay Journal, March 20, 2020

The Beccles and Bungay Journal, March 20, 2020 - Credit: Archant

Local, independent businesses, such as Mandy's Pickles, began delivering everyday essentials to those in need, while Parravani's Ice Cream began free deliveries of ice cream, sorbet, cakes and desserts to those within 25 miles of Beccles.

Within weeks of the outbreak, a number of popular and eagerly anticipated events began to fall from the calendar, with the Bungay Festival of Running and the Beccles Food and Drink Festival among the first to announce cancellations.

Beales in Beccles. Picture: Reece Hanson

Beales in Beccles. - Credit: Reece Hanson

The looming lockdown also saw the end of a much-loved department chain, with Beales closing their doors in Beccles for the final time two weeks ahead of schedule in March 2020 due to the "unprecedented circumstances" of the pandemic.

Supermarkets shoppers also began to face restrictions on items in an attempt to prevent panic buying, with the East of England Co-Op limiting all items to a maximum of two per customer, while concerns over panic buying also prompted East Suffolk Council to issue a warning after toilet rolls and soap were taken from public toilets.

Within weeks, shops had closed and many businesses had ordered staff to work from home.

While we began to adjust to staying home over the following weeks, some Waveney residents were struggling to make it back in the first place, with MP Peter Aldous trying to help constituents return to the UK from Bali, Peru and New Zealand, as well as onboard the Coral Princess cruise ship.

Joy beat coronavirus after a stay at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston.

Joy beat coronavirus after a stay at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston. - Credit: Toby Basil

In April, 94-year-old Joy, from Beccles, thanked the NHS staff who saved her life after battling coronavirus and pneumonia.

The great-grandmother spent less than two weeks in hospital before returning home, with her grandson labelling her as a "miracle lady."

The Beccles and Bungay Journal, April 3, 2020

The Beccles and Bungay Journal, April 3, 2020 - Credit: Archant

Easter passed without major issue, despite concerns a warm and sunny weekend would see people rush to beaches and parks.

William Drew-Batty performed daily symphonies from his Bungay balcony in the first lockdown

William Drew-Batty from Bungay, played a blend of classical tunes, his own compositions, and even 80s music for his neighbours for twenty minutes every day during the first lockdown. - Credit: William Drew-Batty

Yet even from home, people continued to find creative ways to entertain neighbours, such as Bungay composer William Drew-Batty, who began daily symphonies from his St Mary's Street balcony.

He continued his efforts for 70 days, before returning with an advent challenge to spread Christmas cheer in December.

One Halesworth couple, however, found themselves the subject of noise complaints after setting up speakers to play songs requested by neighbours for 90 minutes on Sundays, with East Suffolk Council ordering them to stop.

Wendy and Nigel Flatt, who run Smokey Joe's in Ditchingham, near Bungay.

Wendy and Nigel Flatt, who run Smokey Joe's in Ditchingham, near Bungay. - Credit: Smokey Joe's

Slowly but surely, local businesses, restaurants and cafes began preparing for life after lockdown, with Smokey Joe's, in Ditchingham, installing barriers between tables.

Run by husband and wife Nigel and Wendy Flatt, the couple also helped deliver hundreds of meals to local hospitals in the first few weeks of lockdown.

Philip Taylor, landlord, and Lynda Duckworth, converted the King's Head car park, in Loddon, into a hockey pitch beer garden.

Philip Taylor, landlord, and his partner, Lynda Duckworth, bully-off in their car park converted into a hockey pitch beer garden, complete with goal, at the Kings Head at Loddon. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY

The King's Head, in Loddon, transformed their car park into a hockey pitch, complete with astroturf, a goal and sticks to enforce social distancing, while stores in Bungay filled their windows with colourful rainbows and bright bunting to lift spirits.

In Beccles, meanwhile, town councillors approved plans to ban cars from some town centre streets ahead of shops reopening in a bid to allow shoppers to socially distance and stay safe.

The move proved a controversial one, however, with furious traders claiming the ban was "killing" businesses.

The decision to close New Market, in Beccles, to traffic proved controversial.

The decision to close New Market, in Beccles, to traffic proved controversial. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

The saga continued for weeks, with councillor Norman Brooks quitting in July over the plans, before Caroline Topping resigned the following month after being subjected to "harassment, threats and abuse."

In October, a "compromise" was finally reached to reopen New Market while blocking a number of parking spaces to allow shoppers to queue safely on the road.