Today is Sussex Day and it feels right this year to use the occasion to celebrate not only the beautiful county we are part of, but also the resilience, strength and generosity of our local communities.

When we are finally able to look back on this dreadful pandemic, it will be remembered as an unprecedented and challenging time which brought hardship and pain to very many people. For those East Sussex residents who have lost family members and friends to the disease, and those who have struggled to keep their businesses afloat, they will be very difficult memories.

Some positives

But maybe there are also some positives to take away from it.

Strict lockdown with instructions not to go out unless absolutely necessary confined many people to their homes – separated from their families, their friends, their local communities, and the open spaces we’re so fortunate to have in East Sussex.

So when I was able to travel to walk in the sunshine on Ashdown Forest, the South Downs and along our beautiful coastline after months of not being able to, it was with a fresh appreciation of our wonderful county. How much had I taken for granted that I could walk the dog along the South Downs?

Stronger communities

The staff cafe at County Hall in Lewes was transformed into a sorting warehouse for emergency food deliveries

The pandemic has also brought out the best in our community as people have volunteered their time and skills to help others. When there are so many to thank it would be wrong to single anyone out but across East Sussex Community Hubs have been set up to support vulnerable people. Foodbanks have seen a massive increase in need, and across social media it’s easy to find the numerous local community “support” groups that have sprung up to bring people together. Our communities are stronger as a result.

And maybe we have a renewed appreciation for the public sector workers and key workers who have kept our communities going and have been in the frontline of the fight against the disease in East Sussex.

Our NHS has proved, once again, how utterly amazing it is and how lucky we are to have it. When I went to get my covid jab at Eastbourne Hospital I was astonished by the efficiency, care and commitment of the NHS staff and a host of volunteers.

GPs, medical staff and volunteers in Crowborough made front page news in the Times

Our amazing NHS

NHS staff and volunteers in Crowborough made national front page news and Ticehurst Pharmacy was mentioned by the Prime Minister for the way it had brought together its local community to deliver the vaccine. It’s a huge tribute to our hospitals, GPs, pharmacies and public health teams that, at the time of writing, almost two million doses of the vaccine have been given out across Sussex.

Our supermarket workers and delivery drivers have soldiered on, our emergency services and armed forces have worked tirelessly to keep us safe, and carers and social workers have continued to support the vulnerable. Our elected councillors, from all political parties, have successfully lobbied Government for funding support for our communities, and made policy decisions prioritising the pandemic fight and the protection of the vulnerable.

Virtual classrooms

Meanwhile our teachers have gone over and beyond to continue the education of our children. I’ve seen brilliantly creative and humorous videos on social media put together by East Sussex school teachers to connect with, encourage and support their pupils, while schools have also had to adapt to delivering a timetable virtually. And many stayed in the classroom to continue to teach vulnerable children or those of key workers. I’ve watched in admiration while my own teenage daughter has been kept engaged with her learning through her creative and committed teachers. And let’s not forget how resilient our young people have been. Their lives, schooling and friendships have been disrupted like never before.

Many schools, like Stone Cross School, used Facebook videos to keep in touch with pupils

The list of people we will owe a debt of gratitude to could go on and on, and there’s little doubt East Sussex, like the rest of the world, has been challenged and changed as a result of this pandemic.

This Sussex Day, while remembering those we have lost, maybe it’s worth, with a fresh sense of pride and appreciation, also reflecting on just how fortunate we are to have beautiful countryside and coastline, and how many wonderful people we share this county with. I will certainly be doing so.