Keeping you informed as world plunged into ‘storm’
Storm Dennis battered the South West in February, bringing floods and disruption, but little did we know we were set for a different kind of storm.
A few mentions of a new virus here and there were the first drops of rain, but the showers initially scattered far away from Somerset, Gloucestershire and Bristol.
That was until March, when it became abundantly clear that the region, and the world, was at war with this pandemic. Our vulnerable, our hospitals and our businesses were as much at risk as those in all countries affected by this unprecedented outbreak.
As part of Journalism Matters Week, we have taken a look at how our reporters covered the Covid-19 crisis across our region.
The Gloucestershire team’s coverage began at the epicentre itself as we spoke to one of the Brits forced to leave Wuhan.
Our Somerset team followed local passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship as they were repatriated as words like “quarantine” became part of our daily conversations. And as cases began to be confirmed in our region we wanted to make sure we were clear on what the true picture was.
The black clouds were gathering, however, and the severity of the situation could not be ignored.
Questions started to be asked about the viability of major events, including Cheltenham Festival. These concerns were quashed by the Government who insisted it was business as usual, despite growing calls for a national lockdown. The event controversially continued almost as normal, with face masks becoming the must-have accessory.
A week later, everything changed. Lockdown was announced along with rigorous rules and restrictions that we all had to follow. People felt confused, isolated and frightened. And as dramatic as the situation was, we made sure we brought our readers the vital information they needed, the local updates and the new laws. Every step of the way we backed up stories with official data and sources, separating the comment and speculation from the hard facts.
At a time when many people were switching off their social media feeds, we wanted to make sure we were not adding to the unhelpful conjecture that started weighing on people’s mental health.
At the same time our news teams in Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire were rapidly adapting to a new way of working. Our offices were swapped for spare rooms, kitchens and sheds. Like everyone else we juggled work with childcare, holding meetings via video calls and battling home wifi and homeschooling. Despite this change, our readers remained our focus and our mission to bring trusted information to the people who need it did not falter.
As Boris Johnson’s daily news conferences painted a bleak picture of soaring numbers and towering graphs, our reporters were showing that each number on a chart was a real person, the much-loved mums, dads, grannies and grandads, all mourned and lost by their family and friends.
In Bristol we spoke to the colleagues of front-line staff who lost their lives, the bus drivers from First Bus, the NHS staff and the carers. We lost so many people. At times the details felt overwhelming to both readers and staff, but with many families and loved ones unable to say goodbye in person, we gave them the opportunity to pay tribute publicly.
Few stories were as moving as Somerset’s tribute to twin sisters Katy and Emma Davis, both nurses, who died within days of each other after contracting coronavirus. Their sister Zoe spoke for so many grieving families when she said: “It’s absolutely soul destroying. You can’t grieve properly because you can’t be with the people that you love.”
Alongside the stories of loss and grief, we have shared the tales of hope, the moving accounts of those who have fought and won against the virus and the emotional scenes as families were reunited.
In Gloucestershire, the moment Rob Thomas, who was given a 50/50 chance of survival, was finally reunited with his family was moving.
Focusing on the real people, the families and friends affected by coronavirus has been at the centre of all of our reporting – and it will continue to be.
We know trust and accuracy is important, which is why all the coronavirus information we use across Bristollive, Somersetlive and Gloucestershirelive is from known sources, medical experts and Public Health England. We work alongside our NHS trusts and councils to make sure we spread key messages to the widest possible audience.
With our partners at Inyourarea, we have been able to bring communities the local details they need, from how to support foodbanks to just how many cases have been recorded in their neighbourhood.
But working with councils and the NHS doesn’t mean we stop asking the important questions, like why Cheltenham Festival was allowed to go ahead, why access to coronavirus testing has been so hard and what is being done to protect our vulnerable older residents in care homes.
To our readers, whether it is online, in print or across our social media channels, thank you for supporting us in these strange times. By signing up to a newsletter, leaving a comment on a story or writing to your local paper you are showing your support for local news. We couldn’t do any of this without you.
In the months ahead we may experience more changes and more upheaval but remember our teams will be there with you.