Looking into the future – How will Coronavirus change our way of life?

This picture, courtesy of the Liverpool Echo, shows our wonderful city. Do the right things now and we can build on coronavirus changes to create a strong future for our City. Do the wrong things and our City will suffer for a long time.

In my last blog I looked at the environmental improvements that we might make if we learn the lessons of the coronavirus lock down. In this blog I am trying to begin to think through what this might mean in the ways that we live our lives as individuals, families and communities.

 Behavioural scientists tell us that if we stop doing a bad habit for 21days we are very likely to break that habit. If we keep to a new good habit for 21 days, we are likely to keep it up and for it to become a new part of our lifestyle. Our habits, good and bad are going to be broken for a lot longer than 21 days and the likelihood is that many will want to continue with the ‘good’ things that they have started doing and not do the ‘bad’ things they have been prevented from doing.

Work in the future

I suspect that many people, having been given the opportunity to work from home will want to carry on doing so. This should be supported because:

They will be more productive if they are not facing long and nasty commutes;

They will be more family oriented and strong families are a corner stone of our society;

There will be a huge environmental saving as people cut down on travel although there will be some environmental losses as more individual homes will need to be heated etc during the day.

Not everyone will have a job which can easily be done at home and not everyone has a home that can easily be worked from. I can do it because I have a relatively large house with only two of us in it and my wife always socially distances herself from me by working from her play room while I work from mine!

I also suspect that we will move much of our spending focus from making things to doing things. There is a huge need for more social carers. We will perhaps be wanting more stuff for gardens and hobbies which can be undertaken quietly at home. We will want more education and interest activities. Hasn’t it been marvellous the way places like Chester Zoo and other places which cannot stay open for people have been doing streaming of animals and setting up quizzes and other things which have kept kids occupied?

Doing more from home will involved structural changes in investment particularly in the field of IT. Companies will have to pay more for home kit and there is a clear problem with Wi-Fi bandwidth in some areas.

Pleasure in the future

So, we now can’t get smashed until 05.00 in the morning. I’ll miss this terribly (not!)

But it’s not only pub and club users that will be subject to a culture shock but many other areas of our none work lives. Retail therapy will be hit for a long time. Even if the shops open again after 3 months, they won’t necessarily be running properly because of the discontinuation of long supply chains many of them from China. We already know that there won’t be as many toys in place at Christmas time because of that lead in from design to production to delivery. Similar issues with clothing.

We cannot fly to the Sun in Spain or Italy for months and are beginning to learn the benefits not only of our own localities but also of our regions and country. Will we use our own facilities more? It’s years since I have been to the Lady Lever Gallery in Ellesmere Port and 3 or 4 since I went to Sudley House which I can walk to in 30 minutes.

Last Summer Erica and I had a great 5 days in Llandudno where we basked in sun as hot as Spain but got there in an hour. Have we just got into the habit of going to Spain etc and can we now rediscover and holiday in nearby venues.

On the plus side many people are finding new, cheap and local things to do. People are being encouraged to go to parks providing they don’t mingle with other people. I saw a Tweet yesterday from someone who said they hadn’t been in Calderstones Park for years and had forgotten how beautiful it is.

There is an upsurge in reading and music appreciation. I know this partly from Twitter but partly because I have set up a book and CD exchange at my front gate and it is proving to be very popular.

Many people have also started to do remote learning on a range of subjects. Some of these are subjects from scratch; some are refreshing school work and some are picking up learning dropped aside because of the pressure of life.

At the moment although there is a huge problem in the hospitality industry our local restaurants near Penny Lane are continuing to do well because although they have no diners, they have either expanded or initiated a takeaway service and these are proving to be very popular. People say they will remember this localised service and the relationships they have created into the future.

Of course, I don’t expect this idyllic way of life to continue. The Clubs will reopen; the shops will fill with imported rubbish and we’ll fly out to the Costas. But will we want to drink, eat, shop and holiday in the way that we did. On the 21-day rule will we learn to spend at least some of our time and money differently?

What will that mean to council thinking?

It’s obviously too soon to tell but the longer that the disruption lasts the more profound the changes will be. If more people do work from home what will happen to the city market not only for offices but also all the social and support infrastructure which support offices and their workers. If people work from home more what investment will be needed in their communities to enable them to do it properly.

If we won’t be going to town and city centres for leisure as much what will we need to provide in our suburbs and small towns to give local facilities, pleasures and opportunities.

What is the future of our High Streets if we do less in town but still want to buy less stuff? What will they look like in a few years’ time given the changes that were already in place? Are suburbs and ‘none’ city centres like Allerton Road and Old Swan the place to invest for a range of new opportunities to meet changing times? Has the swing to the ‘big’ been replaced by a move to the ‘small’?

Of course, neither I nor anyone knows the answers to these questions and there are many more questions to be asked. Before the crisis struck Mayor Anderson and I had talked about the establishment of some sort of Liverpool Futures Commission which would look at trends in all areas and work out what our response should be to them. We agreed that this should be done and were going to look at this in coming weeks. I think that the need to do that is now urgent. There are changes going on which could sink our City. Alternatively, we can understand those changes and work out how to use them to the advantage of our City to create employment and prosperity.

We cannot do anything in the very near future except think what we can do, how to do it and who to do it with as soon as life starts to get back to normal. I hope that is what the Council, in our new spirit of unity will be prepared to do.

As always, I’d love to hear your ideas on this and other issues at richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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