Tragic stories and tales of hope - Sunderland pays tribute to city's key workers

Touching tributes have been paid to the unsung heroes of the coronavirus crisis on Wearside – the city’s key workers.

Thursday, 24th September 2020, 5:54 pm
Key workers of all kinds were thanked by the city's elected representatives.

A motion was tabled at a full meeting of Sunderland City Council saying thank you to everyone who has played their part during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Council staff, NHS workers, other key workers and voluntary and community sector organisations were included.

Councillors across the political divide shared their stories of individuals and groups in their own wards who had made a difference.

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This ranged from food banks being set up in communities to the ‘volunteer army’ of nearly 1,000 people stepping forward to help.

Leader of Sunderland City Council, Cllr Graeme Miller, said: “I’m beyond proud and eternally grateful to everyone involved in this remarkable ongoing city of Sunderland effort that underlines the strength of the human spirit and captures the very essence of community.”

Deputy leader, Cllr Paul Stewart, also credited “hard-working and dedicated” council staff, including the team which paid out £44million in Government grants to almost 4,000 businesses.

The council chief also praised environmental services staff continuing to collect around 140,000 wheel bins each week in “very challenging circumstances” and described the work of the council’s care teams in supporting vulnerable children and adults as “nothing short of heroic.”

He went on to say: “There are far too many teams and outstanding examples of dedication to mention individually, but each and every one is held by me in the highest regard including the 570 colleagues who, finding they were unable to do their usual jobs due to lockdown restrictions, readily stepped up to the mark and were redeployed into critical adult social care roles.”

Conservative councillor, Cllr Dominic McDonough, said some residents had lost friends and relatives to Covid which “made the crisis very real indeed.”

He added: “Behind this crisis, however, we have seen a shining light in this city and beyond, with all the tragic stories we have seen many stories of hope.

“Our key workers have stepped up in this time of crisis and they have kept this country going quite frankly, often against all odds.

“They have cared for us, fed us, they have transported us and generally made sure we can all continue to live our lives and get some sort of normality going.”

‘Can-do and caring’

Cabinet member for Dynamic City, Cllr Rebecca Atkinson, said the council’s housing team were a “testament to the can-do and caring attitude we saw displayed by so many during Covid.”

“Our key workers show time and time again, they are the very best of us, the backbone of the UK and often the forgotten heroes,” she said.

The comments were made during a full council meeting on Wednesday, September 23, which was held via videolink and broadcast on YouTube as part of social-distancing measures.

At the meeting, the city’s Liberal Democrat group withdrew their own similar motion and paid their own tributes.

Deputy cabinet member for Healthy City and mental health nurse, Cllr Kelly Chequer, also paid a heartfelt tribute to NHS staff who had lost their lives.

“This pandemic has touched us all affecting the way we live, the way we work and the value that we place on simple things like hugging a friend,” she said.

“Sadly we have seen existing inequalities exposed and exacerbated for people using and working in health and social care services which has led to much soul-searching for many of us.

“So I just wanted to take a moment to pause and reflect with all of you and to thank my colleagues and friends in the NHS and social care for everything that you have done.

“We have all learned so much, tackled things we wouldn’t have dreamed of before the pandemic and proved how strong we can be in the face of adversity.

“I would like us to recognise and pay respect to the nurses who have sadly lost their lives during this period, their loss humbles us all.”

Lessons must be learned

Cllr Chequer added lessons must be learned from the pandemic around the importance of key workers going forward.

She went on to say: “In my role in the NHS and my position here in the council, I’m in the privileged position of hearing amazing stories of how key workers have changed lives.

“Those stories have always been there, but there has been much more than ever in the last six months despite how difficult the circumstances have been and I cannot underestimate how difficult those circumstances were.

“Sadly this Government left them without protective equipment, failed to provide the promised testing and discharged patients carrying the virus from hospitals into care homes.

“After all the sacrifice and hardship we can’t go back to business as usual, for the very same people who have risen to this challenge for us all, continue to be underpaid and undervalued.

“Key workers, wherever you work, you have a special place in the hearts of people that we’re here to serve and never more so than now.

“I want to make sure that every single person who is going above and beyond during these extraordinary times knows how much we value and appreciate their work.

“We can’t be sure of exactly what the next six months will bring but I know you will meet the challenges as you have always done, with courage and compassion.”

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