'I’ve been told several times, “normal” is now pronounced “the past”'

Hampstead Heath. Picture: Ken Mears

Working from home gives residents the chance to get out locally - Credit: Ken Mears

Next door, Dick, a semi-retired lawyer, is in his bedroom working on a poem. Arriving from the States to visit his new granddaughter, he tested positive for Covid-19 after the flight. The whole family is isolating for a while. 

The time between Christmas and the return to work in the new year always seems special. My calendar for the week this year is quite empty, like so many of our streets. I imagine something hurled into the air, hanging almost stationary before beginning its return to earth. I imagine the world as the Vikings once did, rotating on a vast timber axis, creaking to a halt before slowly reversing direction. 

Midwinter is a time for imagination and reflection. The pandemic has changed so much, we should by now have stopped expecting any return to normal. As I’ve been told several times, “normal” is now pronounced “the past”. In the spirit of Build Back Better, what can we look for in the New Normal? 

Stephen Taylor sees the positive in working from home

Stephen Taylor sees the positive in working from home - Credit: Miki Yamanouchi

More than most places, Hampstead residents who work can do so from home. Many have already chosen to do so by leaving the city, replacing a daily commute from NW3 with a weekly train journey from Berkshire or Hertfordshire. Those who remain need Hampstead to become a better place to work in. 

Working from home returns to you your former commuting time. Getting out of the house becomes a welcome break and you have time to shop. You need to go for walks. Our high streets are changing to serve this. I have lost count of how many artisan bakers are now open within walking distance. Independent food retailers are flourishing across the city; we now have three supermarkets in the Village. 

The mutual-aid networks that mushroomed in lockdown have made links between neighbours stronger than they have been for a generation. The accelerating environmental breakdown will test us. We need to keep looking after each other. 

The new year will find us travelling less, and with more time for families, neighbours and the culture Hampstead has long cherished. I’ve seen a draft of Dick’s poem. It’s not bad.

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Stephen Taylor is chair of the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum