Along with many others, most of my focus during this awful pandemic has been trying to help people in our community. People who needed food. People stranded abroad. People whose businesses are being hit. People who have lost their job.
In Parliament and behind the scenes, many MPs from all parties have been constructive – whether that’s been bringing forward ideas about what Ministers should be doing on testing, or pointing out the gaps in the Government’s business support schemes – especially for the self-employed – or urging them to support care homes better.
And with the real threat of a second wave of the virus, there remains much more to be done.
While the main focus must remain on the here and now, to defeat the virus and to look after everyone, there’s also an urgent need to think about the future too. Of course uncertainty about the future has rarely been greater – whether it’s the longer term effects of Covid on society and the world of work. Or Brexit. Or how the country will adjust to high levels of debt. Even before we add in the challenges of things like the climate emergency.
Yet the need to debate our future has rarely been more important.
So I’d like to get YOUR views, please.
First, I’m keen to know how you think your work and your business will be affected. If you were commuting into an office 4 or 5 days a week before the pandemic, do you see yourself returning to that? Will it alter to 3 or 4 days a week commuting? Or even just 1 or 2 days?
If you’re a younger person, living in a shared house say, is working from home difficult? Would you prefer to go back to the office 5 days a week?
From many conversations I’ve had in recent weeks, I sense the impact on commuting and the office economy will be permanent and significant – with huge implications for our public transport systems and the demand for office space, with equally dramatic consequences for where and how we should be looking to house people in the future.
Could the next big thing be the repurposing of large number of office blocks in the centre of our cities, to provide great, affordable homes for young people, not just executives and overseas investors?
As the local MP, I’m especially interested in how such changes might impact on our local community. With 10 mainline train stations in Kingston, taking tens of thousands of local people out of the Borough every day pre-pandemic, what happens to us?
If fewer people need or want to commute into central London in the future, how do we make it easier for local people to work from home? Or work from our local libraries, coffee shops or maybe some sort of new community hubs or shared local office space?
What about those people who still need to commute? Who can’t work from home?
If more people are working locally, can we ensure our local high streets and existing local businesses benefit and adjust? How should the Council respond – with local planning, housing and transport policies?
From how we look after children to how we care for the elderly, from how we might increase green spaces to how we think about people’s mental well-being, I feel we need to look afresh at longstanding issues.
The good news is, there might be a future after all this, which is beneficial to us all. Where we spend less time travelling, and more time caring. Where our local communities thrive and our prosperity isn’t just sucked into the City’s Square Mile. Where we can think about tackling climate change more effectively and provide new homes for people more affordably, more rapidly.
Am I being too optimistic? Do you just want things to go back to how they were before?
Because I think no-one can yet know the answers, I’m keen to listen. To get your views. To hear about your problems and fears. Your hopes and aspirations. Your ideas!
My plan is to survey local people more formally about these issues over the Autumn. But it would help me do that if I can get a sense of what you, the readers of Berrylands Companion think.
So if you can spare 5 minutes, please drop me a line at [email protected] – and help me think about our future. Thank you.
This article first appeared in A Berrylands Companion in September 2020.