Pat Staniforth – Whitby and the pandemic : a virtual archive of people’s experiences

Pandemic Experiences

Apart from being in my late ’70s and therefore classed as ‘vulnerable’ when the pandemic struck, I was in an incredibly fortunate position in many ways, and have to admit that I really quite enjoyed the enforced ‘lockdown’. We’d just returned from a wonderful holiday in Costa Rica and didn’t have anything else planned apart from a visit to Ireland to see our grandchildren there, and a walking holiday in Scotland. We didn’t have to worry about our jobs or our income. So apart from missing the grandchildren, and not being able to play tennis, we weren’t missing anything, and we most certainly had plenty to do! And we were reluctantly dragged into the 21st century with Facetime and Zoom!

The first three weeks were so peaceful – if only it could have lasted! No cars going by (though the buses kept running; most of them were empty), no noisy motorbikes, no aeroplanes above, and no farm machinery on the go. The weather was incredibly good for March (it turned out to be the driest and sunniest spring on record) and we were able to go for walks on footpaths we hadn’t used for years because they were usually too muddy – and it was possible to go for a walk without meeting another soul – if we did meet anyone, it was someone local, and there was always time for a long chat, even if we didn’t know who they were!. We spent hours in the garden and down in the adjacent field that we own, and for the first time in many years, we were here to control the weeds, to pull up nettle roots and thistles and to keep the goosegrass under control.

The peace couldn’t last, of course; the noisy motor bikes, always a problem in this area, the road round the bay being a popular motor bike ‘run’, were first to return. We saw the occasional camper van (not really allowed) parked on Sledgates. We were able to play tennis again, which was great. ‘Social distancing’ became the norm. For three months, the weather continued fine and sunny, and we were almost yearning for a rainy day so we wouldn’t have to water the garden, and we could get some inside jobs done. The weather finally broke at the beginning of June – it seemed like winter had returned!

We were initially told to ‘stay at home’ apart from going out for exercise and for shopping. We enrolled for ‘click and collect’ from Sainsburys and nipped into Aldi once a fortnight at 8.00 on Saturday mornings when there were few people about. We also had our local butcher / baker and small grocery store within walking distance, so no problems there. At first we had the crazy situation of no availability of toilet rolls, pasta and flour! Flour continued to be in short supply; suppliers couldn’t keep up with filling the small bags that the home bakers use. Wine and beer were in short supply, too, for a while, because the pubs were closed. And hand sanitiser, of course.

Robin Hoods Bay is a relatively isolated village, and is very much a tourist destination. There was a strong feeling in the village that visitors should stay away and there were so many unpleasant comments about this on the facebook page that the administrator decided to ban all comments relating to the virus. There were fears that the village would be inundated when lockdown was eased, and, although, of course, there were more people around, it never became as busy as the residents feared.

I got involved in making scrubs and bags for scrubs for nurses. They were still in demand in June. I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a manufacturer in the country who could have churned them out in days.

I’ve always regretted that we no longer make our own clothes in this country and that we import so much from the other side of the world. If we learn nothing else from this crisis, we surely need to become more self sufficient and less dependent on imports – could we revive the campaign to ‘Buy British’?

We stopped watching television news and listened to it on the radio instead. We found it incomprehensible that people started flocking to the beaches and ignored social distancing rules when taking part in ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstrations. Most people are still nervous that there will be another peak of the virus; too many people are still dying with the disease. I don’t understand economics, but now, in mid June, it seems that the economy is more important than the virus. Shops are re-opening and on 4th July, tourism may resume, with some restrictions. But it will be a long time before things are back to ‘normal’. Will we learn anything from this unique experience? Sadly, I’m not optimistic.


Pat Staniforth June 2020