Remembering those who fell victim to Covid

Two years on, families share their grief

Friday, 25th March — By Charlotte Chambers

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Reverend James Hughesdon stands alongside Councillor Janet Burgess and Mayor Troy Gallagher

WEDNESDAY marked exactly two years to the day that our world stopped as prime minister Boris Johnson announced a national lockdown and people were ordered to stay home amid the advance of Covid-19.

This week – for the first time since the pandemic began – people gathered to pay tribute to loved ones who died after contracting the coronavirus, and to spare thoughts for those still being treated in hospital. Mayor of Islington Troy Gallagher said the event on the steps of the Town Hall was to remember the 418 people from the borough who had died.

He said he was hopeful that the worst of the pandemic was over but reflected on the pain suffered by those whose final moments had been alone in hospital due to restrictions on Covid wards.

“Over the past two years, Covid has had a devastating impact on our lives.  On this spring morning, we gather in the fresh air and hope that the worst of the pandemic is over – here and abroad,” he said.

“We know that Covid is still with us, of course, and that it has already taken a terrible toll on our community. More than 400 of our residents have lost their lives to this awful virus. Many others died during this time who we were not able to be with in their final hours, or to mourn in the way we would wish to – and we remember them too.”

At the invitation of the mayor, who asked if anyone wished to come and speak, Councillor Janet Burgess walked the stone steps and paid tribute to her husband Wally Burgess, himself a former councillor, who died just a month into the first lockdown.

She said: “He served this borough for 16 years, he loved this borough. He died of Covid on April 30, 2020 – one of the first people to be taken by it. And the worst thing really, was that I wasn’t able to be with him, his children weren’t able to be with him, his sister wasn’t able to be with him. We ­couldn’t hold a proper funeral.

“We couldn’t do the rituals of death which is so important to those who are left behind, so I’m really happy and pleased that the council has put on this remembrance today.”

She later described how she had been left with the sense that her husband’s death was “unfinished business” as both his family and countless others in the borough were unable to publicly commemorate their loved ones.

Instead, she welcomed the idea of a permanent memorial where people could visit to reflect and remember those lost to Covid.

The Reverend James Hughesdon, the vicar of St Mary’s Church in Upper Street, said: “Today we remember those who have lost loved ones, those who have lived most of this time in isolation, those who have suffered mental health crises.”

Islington leader Councillor Kaya Comer-Schwartz said the council was investigating the possibilities behind something permanent and said it was important to come together to offer some “comfort” to those who have lost people.

A minute’s silence was observed at different times across the borough, at Highbury Quadrant, Holly Park and Popham Estate.

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