One year on: chair reflects on the pandemic

23 March 2021

The mental health impact of the coronavirus will be felt for a long time, says Gwent Police Federation chair Steve Thorpe.

Steve was reflecting on the 12 months since the first coronavirus lockdown and admitted he was concerned about the mental health impact on officers and the wider community.

“This is huge and will be with us for a very long time,” Steve said, “It’s the loneliness that people suffer daily, even in the police, going home alone with nobody to speak to or share concerns with is horrible.

“Our children have also suffered and to get them back to school has been a joy, it has been lovely to see the difference.”

Steve said that he’s also seen a difference in officers and their mental health as the pandemic has developed.

“I think early on how members adjusted was okay because of the novelty,” he said, “But as the pandemic progressed, officers have become worn and tired.

“We now have issues around mental health, stress and fatigue. We’re all tired and the novelty has certainly gone. Nobody now seems to really know the rules or what we can and can’t do.”

And he admitted that at times he and his family have found the pandemic difficult.

“I think I have coped well,” he said, “Less so with my children. I’m very lucky in my role that I can home work but, without that, it would have been desperately hard to get any sort of balance.

“I’ve found times on my own hard, when traditionally I could do something that is no longer an option. That has been very hard and Netflix can only hold the attention for so long.”

Looking back to the start of the pandemic, Steve said the seriousness of what was coming was unknown, but that quickly changed as events unfolded.

“I must be honest, initially, I was a little unconcerned because the seriousness wasn’t immediately known,” he said, “I was operational then and with the lack of equipment and not knowing anybody who’d had it, I was a little unfazed, to be honest.

“However, as it progressed, I quickly became more aware and concerned primarily because of the Government response which made me understand there must be something in this.”

He added: “In the early days there was lots of scratching of heads and waiting for guidance to come from the centre. Operationally, PPE wasn’t great and to get any we had to go through the self-proclaimed emperor of the PPE store. So, when there was access, people took more than they should.

“Early meetings were very much a little bit of information and a lot of conjecture, but they did start to settle and slowly structure was put in place.

“The big driver here was the first lockdown and the need to adapt very quickly.”

Steve praised the response of the Force to move people towards home working.

“This was quite good I think,” he said, “There had been a big drive towards remote working anyway. This just accelerated matters and Teams came into its own. All officers had laptops and most staff, so the shift was challenging but quickly absorbed.”

And looking back on the last 12 months, Steve said there were some key lessons that can be learned.

“Firstly, we can do this and it’s easier to work together and support each other,” he said, “It also became apparent that education is a better way to appeal to the public, but also we need to be transparent about why decisions are being made.

“I think we have learned that if you are going to lockdown, lockdown early and stick with it. The constant changes of rules legislation has been hard work,” he added.