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Covid: What easing restrictions mean to people in a Witham estate

On Monday most restrictions on social contact were lifted and mask wearing ceased to be required by law. What does it mean for those living on an Essex housing estate?

More than 15 years have passed since the Templars estate in Witham was in the headlines as being home to a man and his parents who had all been given an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO).

Those who live here say the estate is now a very different place, one where people look out for one another, where many people hold two jobs to make ends meet and one they are proud to call home.

As restrictions are lifted, the most pressing concerns on the estate are personal: Seeing a new-born grandchild, personal mental and physical health, and how it will be for children starting school.

image copyrightLouise Howard

“For me the saddest thing was during the first lockdown,” says mother-of-two Louise Howard. “My little boy looked out of the window and asked why he couldn’t play out with his friends.”

As a result her two children – aged two and four – have become “inseparable”.

What does the ending of restrictions mean for a place like Templars?

“We are going to have a lot of people who are going to be nervous, people will worry about not wearing a mask and people are not going to be as social or mixing in big groups,” says Ms Howard, who is a member of the Templars Community Association.

“I think there will be mental health issues, especially amongst people who live alone who have developed mental issues that were not there before. That is going to be the biggest impact.

“I think in 20 years’ time we will start to know what exactly went on with the pandemic.

“I’m wondering what the kids will be taught about it.

“It will be part of history and I think in 40 years’ time people will still be talking about what they were doing during the global pandemic.”

Neil Coughlan says he has mixed feelings about the unlocking of coronavirus restrictions.

The 66-year-old says on one hand, there is the “anticipation” of being able to “mix with your family, see people you haven’t seen for a long time and reacquaint with friends”.

“But on the other hand, I’m also clinically vulnerable so there’s an anxiety there, especially about the mask policy.”

Mr Coughlan says he wishes the government was a “little bit clearer about the mask policy in shops”, as face coverings are no longer required by law but they are “recommended” in enclosed and crowded spaces.

“Most people are responsible with the masks and they will do it but some people won’t and that’s the worry,” he says.

As for lockdown itself, he says the community in Templars estate came together.

The estate, founded in the 1960s to help ease London overcrowding, is made up of 425 properties, half of which are social housing run by Eastlight Community Homes.

Once a place where crime and anti-social behaviour were major issues, he says, a concerted effort has been made to turn things around.

“As a community we stood up to it and changed it and it’s a good community because of that,” says Mr Coughlan.

Community events, including a family day with a hog roast and another with Punch and Judy, have been held previously.

“We might do something like that for a celebration,” he says. “This is the end of Covid, this is the start of freedom.”

Mum-of-one Natalie Tween says there was a “bit of apprehension” waking up on Monday.

She says she will continue to wear a mask on public transport, and is concerned about whether other people are going to wear masks and are “going to try to keep themselves safe”.

However, the 38-year-old says she is looking forward to fewer restrictions for her son Harry, four.

“It’s been quite hard with lockdown, but we’re looking forward to it now,” she says.

“We can go see nanny, can go see all of the family, he can play with his friends again now at the park.”

Also, as Ms Tween is visually impaired, she is looking forward to getting help and support from her friends when out and about.

“It’s going to be nice to get out with my friends again, having that reassurance, that other pair of eyes,” she says.

Local shop owner Nick Pindoria says he has been helping to do his bit for the community on the estate.

The 40-year-old says it been a “tough challenge” trying to balance government rules while being embedded within what he describes as a “close-knit” community.

“They can be like ‘Nick, I’ve forgotten my mask, can I come in?’ and I’ve got to look at it from everybody’s perspective.

“I end up being the one who is trying to find the happy medium for absolutely everybody to feel safe and secure in their environment and to feel like they can get the things they need,” he says.

Mr Pindoria says he has gone back to limiting customers in the shop to two at a time, so they can keep socially distanced even if they are not wearing masks.

He says he will also continue a click and collect service, introduced because of the pandemic.

“There are people who will not be back to normal even though we’re on this ‘freedom day’,” he says.

“It’s not really freedom day. On the one hand we’re being told figures are going up and then on the other side being double vaccinated, there’s no certainty.”

Mr Pindoria says the local community will help make a slower transition to unlocking possible, “picking up a bit of the law ourselves”.

“Let’s go back to square one; before the masks we were on the social distancing so let’s go back to that.”

Meanwhile, he is looking forward to being able to take his five-year-old twins to see his clinically vulnerable parents and in-laws, who they have not seen for a “long time”.

Jacqueline Hutchins had a good start to the first day of coronavirus restrictions lifting in England, with the birth of her 10th grandchild at the weekend.

The 59-year-old says it is some positivity after a “really hard” lockdown, as her husband is high risk.

“He was pretty much shut in for 10 months and the amount of tears I had, it was quite hard,” she says.

“But it’s been lovely since we’ve both had our jabs and with the pub opening, I’ve been able to take him for Sunday dinner.

“So that’s changed and there will be even more of a change now.”

“I’m just going to carry on keeping my distance from people,” says Joe Maguire, who has a pre-existing health condition.

“So any chance of me catching it, I’m going to keep away from it.”

The 49-year-old says if there are not too many people in a shop, he will not wear a mask but otherwise will continue to wear a face covering.

“It’s about people using common sense. If you don’t use common sense then it’s going to get worse. “

Danielle Dacey has already been to two supermarkets and says “everyone is still the same, mask-wearing and everything”.

The 33-year-old, who is exempt from wearing a mask but still wore her lanyard which explains this to others, says: “It’s not much different at the moment.”

She says she is looking forward to being able to see her grandparents, adding: “As long as everyone is vigilant and knows to watch out for symptoms, we can carry on as normal really.”

Ms Dacey says the past 18 months have been “crazy” for her.

“I was a key worker up until recently so I worked through the whole pandemic, so I’ve been a very busy woman and I’m looking forward to having a summer off with my kids and enjoying it as I didn’t get to enjoy the last one,” she says.

Ms Dacey says she is hoping for a holiday later in the year, but for now is “taking it one day at the time, and enjoying it”.

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