Let’s find our next normal
This article was originally published in the Fife Free Press on 21/5/20, as part of the paper’s Civic Conversation on life in Kirkcaldy after lockdown.
We are now in the 9th week of lockdown, and starting to think about what happens next. What will our town, and our community, be like after the crisis is over? Will we try to get back to ‘business as usual’, or will we find our ‘next normal’? The Fife Free Press has started a ‘Civic Conversation’ about what life after lockdown might look like in Kirkcaldy. I think we need to seize the opportunity to build on what we have learned during the crisis and find ways to come back better.
The crisis has helped us realise how much we need each other, from clapping for our carers every Thursday night, to neighbourhood WhatsApp groups. There is now a recognition of how hard carers work and we have newfound appreciation of the shop workers and delivery drivers who make our daily lives possible.
New ‘mutual aid’ community groups have emerged – the Linktown Community Aid Group is helping vulnerable people access essential supplies. Established voluntary organisations have stepped up too, with the Cottage Family Centre, YMCA, Greener Kirkcaldy and others quickly changing how they work and ramping up operations to meet the needs of the community.
I hope we continue to value and support each other more once the crisis is over. I’d like to see discussions about how many of our keyworkers are on low wages and insecure contracts. Kirkcaldy should aspire to become a Living Wage town. Let’s all continue to talk to our neighbours and call our families more often. Let’s consider volunteering in our communities. Kirkcaldy has felt like a kinder place this spring. Keeping that up would be a great positive outcome from the crisis.
Green silver linings?
There have been lots of stories about the fall in carbon emissions and air pollution during lockdown. The climate crisis has not gone away though, and there are many lessons from lockdown that could help us go greener.
Many people are working from home – that could continue. I know it is not possible for everyone, but just think of all the cars that usually get driven to offices every weekday – if enough of us worked from home one day a week, it would make a real difference. We are also getting used to video meetings, Zoom etc. I know I will think twice now before travelling to Edinburgh for a work meeting. The world of business travel will (hopefully) never be the same again.
It is great to see so many people out enjoying our beautiful parks and woodlands, on foot and on bikes. We have become more aware of the birds singing and the blossom on the trees. The clean air means we notice the great views over to East Lothian too, which underlines just how polluted the air was previously! Let’s keep up our enjoyment of the natural world post-lockdown. And let’s encourage each other to walk or cycle to work and to the shops, in future. It is by far the greenest, and healthiest, option.
In last week’s Press, Alan West argued for Kirkcaldy to get more people living in our town centre. I agree with him on that.
Fife Council’s 2012 ‘Time for Action’ plan to regenerate the town centre led to some much-needed improvements but, even before lockdown, it was time for new thinking. Chain stores were closing and several big retail units stood empty. Our shopping habits had changed. We complained about the decline of the High Street, but most of us voted with our wallets, spending more at the retail park and online. The current crisis has changed things again, with many more people starting to shop online during lockdown.
The crisis is an opportunity for us to radically reimagine our town centre, with fewer shops, more homes and – when it is safe for us to socialise again – more cafes and leisure businesses. Our town centre simply has too many retail units. We need to accept that many of the empty shops will never be filled again, and that those spaces could be used for other purposes. Town centre living isn’t for everyone, but it appeals to many, from young adults in their first flat to older people keen to down-size and be close to amenities. We also need our town centre to feel safer, and to do more to encourage people to walk and cycle there.
Making these changes will need new approaches and investment – perhaps a new community trust or cross-sector partnership. In Dumfries, town centre regeneration is being led by a community arts group. In other towns the local authorities are taking more proactive roles.
In Kirkcaldy, the new Love Oor Lang Toun group is part of the answer. It has set out to help create a 21st century Kirkcaldy Town Centre that local people will be proud of. Its first project is ShopAppy Kirkcaldy – an award-winning digital marketplace that allows local businesses to get online easily, and customers to support local businesses.
Let’s support it. And let’s not be afraid of new, bolder ideas after lockdown.|