Covid-19 in Banstead
An account for future generations compiled by Gary Walker
This is a contemporary account written by a local resident.
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I had never really imagined that a crisis like this would occur in my lifetime. I had thought that the most likely such scenario would be a Nuclear War; this seemed a possibility in the 1980's. However, I did not expect in these modern times, that a new virus would be affecting all of our lives and would become the greatest disaster since World War II.I knew of the 1918 flu pandemic, but did not seriously expect such a thing to occur in the 21st Century. I have a book which showed baseball players all wearing face masks and a man being refused passage on a bus, as he did not have a face mask.
I, like everyone else, started hearing about COVID-19, in January 2020, but it was still far off, and the Government told us that it was unlikely that it would become a serious issue in the UK.
The first signs that I saw in Banstead about COVID-19, were around the end of February 2020, with shops such as Boots, and other chemists with notices on their front entrances either advertising hand sanitisers, or else saying that they had run out of them.
We were advised to wash our hands after going out, in March, but did not have to wear face masks, then.
I used the Banstead Library, frequently, for internet access, and in March, I sometimes caught snatches of conversations between the librarians about what would happen.
I remember looking at some of the free magazines in there, advertising local events and I realised that NONE of these were going to take place.
The schools all closed down, and more frustrating for me, so did the Banstead Library, on March 20th.
Waitrose was out of flour for weeks as mothers stuck at home with the kids started to do more baking.
The next sign of the coming crisis, and indeed, throughout it, was the new, but soon to be familiar ritual of "social distancing" where people had to keep two metres apart!
There would be queues (often quite long) outside shops and supermarkets such as Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, and Banstead Fruiterers.
I first saw such a queue, outside Banstead Fruiterers, as early as March 21st, two days before Lockdown One.
Lockdown One was announced by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on the evening of March 23rd 2020, and in his address to the nation, he told us that we must stay home, and only go out, once a day, for exercise, or to do shopping for essential items.
Unusually, the front entrance of Waitrose was closed and all customers had to enter through the car park to the back entrance.
Also, the number of people allowed in any one shop at one time was strictly limited. The security guards were busy sanitising and issuing trolleys.
In the early days of Lockdown One, the queue at Waitrose extended all the way to the back of the car park then snaked three times along the back then round to the gated vehicle entrance and into the High Street, outside the Tesco store.
It took an hour just to get into the supermarket. Even when you got to do your shopping, you would find long empty shelves where the toilet rolls used to be, and the same with hand cleanser.
Of course we had the obligatory signs on the floor.
Many times you had to wait while another shopper obstructed the very shelf you wanted to get to, then proceeded to pick up every single item, then put them all back having finally chose just the right one.
NHS staff were allowed to skip the queues in recognition of the long hours they were working.
Happily, the very long queues reduced to something more reasonable after the initial phase of panic buying was over.
Of course, all shop staff also had to wear face masks or shields, and in Boots, I saw people sometimes washing the floor, etc.
Couples were not allowed to shop together in Waitrose as the extra person stopped another shopper being allowed in.
This first lockdown was the most frightening for me and everyone else, even more so, as it was unprecedented in our time. All non-essential shops closed down, for nearly three months, until June 15th. The essential shops such as Boots, Chemists, supermarkets, and newsagents stayed open.
When I did go up to Banstead High Street, it was noticeably empty of people.
However, throughout Lockdown One, and indeed, the entire period, the buses kept on running. Passengers had to wear face masks.
When out, anywhere, one had to keep two metres apart from other people. This, became a bit awkward when I walked up or down Woodmansterne Lane, which is narrow anyway. Inevitably, I would meet other people and they were ALWAYS coming the opposite way to me! This meant that either me, or them, would have to either step out into the road, or else back into somebody's front entrance, in order to keep clear of them.
One was never sure, when dealing with oncoming walkers, of who should give way i.e. who should go out into the road, me, or them? I always thanked those who moved aside for me, but it was irritating when people did not thank me for going on the road (no small thing, with all the cars). Often, I had literally only started walking up the lane, only to encounter the first of many people.
I noticed that far more people were walking along Woodmansterne Lane than usual, as local exercise was allowed but also, people needed to go out to help with their mental well-being. Social distancing extended to the Lady Neville Recreation ground too.
The internet came into its own, then, with many events moving online. Groups could join together to form Zoom meetings, and even schools had to move all education online, too.
The National "Clap for Carers" phenomenon on Thursday evenings at 8pm, started by May, for a few months, whereupon I saw neighbours standing at their front gates, for about two minutes to clap, bang saucepans, etc, and inevitably, some would always let off fireworks, or play music; one house around the back of my block, in Chalmers Road always played the song, "You'll never walk alone".
Inevitably, any social meetings as well as larger fairs and festivals were cancelled. In Banstead, the usual May Queen Fayre, was cancelled, as was Banstead Village Day, in July.
However, in the case of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on May 8th, people got around this, by having individual family celebrations, in their front gardens. I walked around my block down Woodmansterne Lane, Chalmers Road, and Kenneth Road, and down to Chipstead Way, and I saw that virtually every front garden had these celebrations going on. These looked very pretty, with Union Jacks, and bunting, everywhere.
This was helped, considerably, by a freakishly long spell, of gloriously sunny and hot weather from about the start of the Lockdown and lasting for several months. At least, I had a big back garden, so I could sit out in the glorious weather.
I was delighted when Lockdown One was lifted on June 15th, and non-essential shops could re-open.
However, some institutions took longer to re-open, such as barbers, and hairdressers which opened in early July, and Banstead Library which only re-opened after mid-August, but only in a limited way, with a hand sanitiser placed on a desk, just inside the entrance.
In the later lockdowns, one had to book online, or by phone, e.g. to go on one of the computers. We were each given a keyboard which we had to take down to the computer, and when we'd finished, we had to return it to the front desk for it to be sanitised for the next customer!
There was the bizarre situation of returned books having to be 'quarantined' for seventy-two hours before somebody else could borrow them!
Inevitably, we all had "lockdown hairdos", and mine was a mess, too.
Ironically, six weeks after the end of Lockdown One, as from July 24th, everybody was required to wear face masks in shops, and any enclosed spaces. We had not had to do this before, even during Lockdown One.
I saw people either wearing the light blue medical masks, or flowery fabric ones, whilst others, such as myself, wore clear, transparent face shields. Some people wore them all the time, whilst others such as myself only wore them when required to do so. Even wearing the face shield, felt stuffy, and glasses had a tendency to immediately steam up.
The internet was full of instructions on how to make your own reusable mask and suggestions for stopping glasses steaming up.
With a depressing sense of inevitably, it was common to see face masks dumped on the ground, or in parks, etc.
During the summer and autumn of 2020, restrictions were eased as Coronavirus levels dropped, but unfortunately social distancing continued, so any physical social, or other meetings were still cancelled "for the foreseeable future".
A shorter version of the normal service was held on Remembrance Sunday. No parade of course, and the small number of attendees had to keep their distance. Wreaths were laid by two members of the Royal British Legion on behalf of the twenty or so local organisations.
The TV News was constantly full of Coronavirus news and it often became very depressing to even watch it. Every night we were told how many people were admitted to hospital and how many had died the day before. The grim headlines on 26 Jan 2021 told us deaths had exceeded 100,000, but worse, the numbers were still climbing at over 1,000 a day.
In the same news bulletin we were told that other places such as Australia had closed down a whole city because they had three cases of Coronavirus!
On the pavements in the High Street were sticky arrows telling people to keep left! There were bright yellow disks on the pavements all along saying "Shop Safe Shop Local". These started to look a bit grubby after a while.
Every lamp post in the High Street seemed to have two signs attached, one facing one way and one the other. They were place quite high up.On shop floors there were also arrows to denote a one way system, with other signs warning people to stay two metres apart.
Shop counters had plastic, transparent screens erected between them and the customers.
In "Goldings News", a wooden barrier was erected to create a one way system, too.
Even the church had social distancing signs.
In the later lockdowns, there were far more people about than in the first lockdown, but once again, non-essential shops such as barbers, Lorimers, and charity shops were closed.
The government instructed that people who could should work from home again. Others, such as postmen, supermarket workers, nurses and builders, to mention just a few, worked as normal. Ironically, the first three of these were even busier than normal.
Those who were not allowed to work i.e. in non-essential shops, were put on something called “furlough” a government scheme which ensured they did get a proportion of their normal pay.
Some of the numerous coffee shops along Banstead High Street started offering a take-away service which was still allowed.
Heaps of donations appeared outside the charity shops again despite notices to the contrary.
Meanwhile, the virus was spreading even faster with new variants starting to appear.
By early February 2021 a huge vaccination programme was well under way. The first ever injections started on December 3rd 2020, and naturally, the oldest and most vulnerable were vaccinated first.
Mass Vaccination Centres were set up at the Epsom Downs Grandstand and at Nonsuch Mansion, too, but soon a number of smaller venues also offered the vaccine. Maybe at last, we there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
The inspirational Captain Sir Tom Moore, died on February 2nd, and on the next evening there was a "clap for Captain Tom" at 6pm. Just like the "clap for the carers" the neighbours came out on both sides to their front gates to clap! One passing car was bibbing his horn all the way down the Lane, and one or two other cars also beeped! I heard some very distant fireworks.
At the same time, a jogger came down the lane, and it may have seemed to him as though they were cheering him on!
My Mum and Dad, spent virtually all of their lives in Banstead, living first in Lambert Road, and then in a prefab in Lakers Rise, off Chipstead Way, where I spent the first two years of my life. Then we moved to Woodmansterne Lane, in the early 1960's, where I still live today.
I miss them still, but I am glad that I don't have to worry about them getting ill with the Coronavirus, as they, would, of course, be very vulnerable. They would have probably not been able to go out at all, which they would have hated, as they always went out shopping locally right up to the end of their lives!
As I am classed as extremely clinically vulnerable due to having a big heart operation a few years ago, I had my first jab, as early as January 30th 2021, at Arundel House in Garratts Lane, Banstead.
I am writing this article in the hope it will be of interest to the Banstead History Research Group, and this group, will then archive it for future generations.
Vaccinations at Epsom racecourse
Epsom Downs Racecourse was opened up as a vaccination centre and many Banstead residents attended what proved to be a very efficient operation.
You drive up just before your appointed time, queue (socially-distanced) outside for a few minutes, check-in, take your seat on a white plastic garden chair, arranged in three rows of about ten, in the main room on the ground floor and wait a little longer. The room is partitioned into two, one half for the local consortium of GPs and the other for the National Vaccine Centre and each is set up differently.
Doctors and nurses keep popping in and out of makeshift offices and stores in the Tote booths, under signs saying "Place your bets here” . . . as indeed we are.
Strange to be in a space with so many people after nearly a year of this pandemic and strange too to remember the bustle of antiques fairs there in happier times.
Eventually, a marshal sees one of the row of seven vaccinators finish wiping down their desk and an empty chair and raise their hand to indicate they are ready for the next patient and then the marshal waves you over. There are few words used here, it's mostly done by gestures.
You have to try to remember the vaccinator's outstretched hand is for your card which records details of the type of vaccine, batch number and date of the first jab. The outstretched hand is not to shake hands! One person forgot this and lots of frantic hand-flapping ensued as the nurse yanked his hand away.
Details are checked, though it's sometimes hard to hear the questions, muffled through two layers of medical masks; the nurses are noticeably better than the doctors at this and make themselves heard. A list of a dozen questions to read; "Have you had a positive Covid test in the last 28 days?" Etc. If you can say "no" to all of them then it's "Are you right-handed? Turn this way. . ." and almost without feeling it, it's done.
"Are you driving? You'll have to wait 15 minutes", and then off to another plastic chair, eyes on one of the many clocks until it ticks over to home time and wondering that the now-anachronistic glitter ball had been left up above, sparkling weakly with reflected winter sunshine, but feeling that maybe a little celebratory dance is called for after all.
Roll on jab number two.
Vaccinations at Nonsuch
I have only one story of an acquaintance who went to the race course at the appointed time only to be held up for about 1.5 hours by the minister of Health visiting to see how the centre worked.
Nonsuch worked like a sweet dream. Went to check- in ten minutes before appointment, sent to holding car park, five minutes later, sent to actual car park and issued with instructions.
Walked to front of Nonsuch House immediately went in. Injected by about 11:10 hours.Sent to holding area for 15 mins and out by 11:31.
Very pleasant staff.