The year tremendous spirit in Leeds came to the fore - council leader Judith Blake

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake reflects on the year gone by and her hopes for 2021 as she prepares to leave her role and take up a place in the House of Lords.

Monday, 28th December 2020, 11:45 am

It’s often said that hard times bring out the best in people, that opportunity and hope can spring from adversity, writes Coun Blake.

Never has that been more true than in 2020, a year when our city, like the rest of the world, has suffered at the hands of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus has claimed more than 1,000 lives in Leeds, leaving families heartbroken and communities mourning many much-loved characters.

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Eden Crescent in Leeds was named as Britain’s friendliest street this year. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

We will always remember those we have lost and we will be forever grateful to the heroes who have helped Leeds steer a course through the year’s perilous waters. The tireless efforts of our NHS and care workers touched the city’s hearts, with the Thursday evening shows of appreciation on our doorsteps sure to live long in the memory.

When Leeds’s hour of need arrived, they were there on the frontline, looking after the vulnerable and giving reassurance to worried relatives. We owe them a massive debt.

The tremendous community spirit and togetherness our city is known for came to the fore, be that through the groups who helped those who had to shield or the volunteers who stepped in to get free school meals to thousands of Leeds children in the school holidays.

Other key workers – from teachers and train drivers to police officers and postal staff – also deserve our thanks and praise for their part in the fight against coronavirus.

Leeds Rhinos’ Luke Gale lifts the Coral Challenge Cup trophy. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

I have seen first hand how people across the council have regularly gone above and beyond the call of duty for their city. Some have worked on the transport improvements put in place on city centre roads such as Park Row and Infirmary Street, while others kept vital services like refuse collection ticking over in the depths of the pandemic.

I think it’s also important to salute the determination of our retail and hospitality sectors to deal with the financial crisis caused by months of Covid-19 restrictions, preparing all the while to bounce back and reopen their doors with a smile.

The inspirational across-the-board response to the problems we have faced has been reminiscent of how Leeds pulled together in the wake of the flooding unleashed by Storm Eva during the festive period in 2015.

Five years on, I am proud of the strides we are continuing to take to prevent any repeat of those disastrous scenes, with work on the second phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme – designed to protect areas such as Kirkstall and Calverley – having started in January.

Coun Judith Blake will step down from her role as leader of Leeds City Council in 2021 to take up a place in the House of Lords. Picture: Simon Hulme

A much-needed ray of sunshine amid the dark clouds of the pandemic was provided in July by Leeds United’s return to the Premier League after 16 years away. The football produced by Marcelo Bielsa and his players en route to promotion was a joy to watch and it’s been great to see them back in the top flight.

Leeds Rhinos further underlined the city’s credentials as a sporting powerhouse when they won the Challenge Cup at Wembley in October – but it was two of the club’s former players who deservedly made the headlines later in the year.

Kevin Sinfield’s magnificent seven marathons in seven days raised more than £2m following his former teammate Rob Burrow’s devastating diagnosis with motor neurone disease.

The unbreakable bond between these friends is a wonderful example of the positive outlook that has helped Leeds cope with the unprecedented difficulties in 2020. That same spirit will, I believe, be much in evidence once again next year as our economy begins to recover from the pandemic – and the council will be striving to ensure no one is left behind.

Rob Burrow, centre, greets Kevin Sinfield, right, and his running team after they completed seven marathons in seven days to raise funds for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

The start of the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine was a truly emotional moment, with the council now standing ready to do everything it can to assist with the programme.

Here’s to 2021, a year that may offer fresh challenges but one that also promises to lift a weight from our collective shoulders.

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