This time of year we normally seek nominations for our annual Citizen Awards.

As we respond to Covid-19, we've decided to ask for these a little later this year.

In the meantime, I'm catching up with a few of our previous recipients to chat about Covid-19 and hear their thoughts on what this means for our community.

This week I spoke to former mayor Brian Jeffares (2013 recipient) and Allister Thomas (2018 recipient) and asked about the impact on businesses, sports and community groups during the pandemic response.

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Brian Jeffares.
Brian Jeffares.

Brian recalled the 1987 sharemarket crash and 2007 global financial crisis as major events and compared the Government's response back then. It was almost entirely the opposite.

"Farmers were told to put their chequebooks away, interest rates were around 25 per cent and times were grim.

"We were told to tighten our belts, suck it up and get on with surviving as best we could," and that's what happened. There was no money sloshed around by the Government compared to now," says Brian.

Brian rightly says, "This, in turn, raises the burning question of how do we repay this massive debt the Government's borrowing has created, and what is the impact going to be on our children and their children?"

With the wonderful benefit of hindsight it begs the question, did we put too much emphasis on fighting the virus and not enough on the economic impact?

I agree with Brian in that we are yet to fully face the crisis, this will come once we understand the damage caused by the virus and the strategy employed to fight it.

Brian feels the strength of the district lies within the community and by bonding together we will enjoy the advantages Stratford has to offer.

He proudly recalled surveys in the early 2000s that showed, per capita, our volunteer base and hours were among the highest in the country.

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With unemployment predicted to grow significantly in coming months, Brian says, "There will be a need for these people to do something. That's where the community needs to position itself to provide some answers and some alternate activities".

Allister acknowledged the need for volunteers in sport and hoped they would continue to come forward.

Allister Thomas.
Allister Thomas.

Community support has manifested in other ways.

Brian says the most interesting phenomenon he had witnessed during this period was the human interaction. "Naturally, we have been inhibited by the rules to keep our distances but the phone calls, zoom hook-ups, etc. have been quite a revelation."

I agree, this has probably changed the way we engage with others forever.

Sport has changed, but it will bounce back. Brian says people will make sacrifices but will eventually be rewarded. Allister has concerns about the disruption to the winter season for hockey.

"The uncertainty of how to move forward has been a problem," Allister says.

He says one of the major issues for clubs will be retaining members.

"Either it's the wrong time of the year or they just can't afford to play any sport this year. This will be a problem particularly for parents with several children that all want to play sport. We are hoping this year to find support from our local community. Maybe if someone has $20 to spare, it will help a child play sport again this year."

When asked about opportunities and the challenges ahead, Allister says, "Hopefully this will pull a lot of like-minded people together, to help make more opportunities for all ages to participate in sport in our community. In hockey, we had just started an adult back-to-play and learn-to-play programme. I am hoping we can get this back on the ground as soon as possible. Just something different to look forward to and maybe meet a different group of people."

Brian reminded us that now more than ever, we need to think local.

No matter whether it's business, sport or a community group, the recovery from Covid-19 is going to take a very long time. There will be a huge economic and social cost, and a new normal to get used to. Doom and gloom, or opportunity and positive change? I'll go with the latter.

Keep a watch, as I share my Covid-19 conversations with other Citizen Award recipients over the next few weeks in the Stratford Press.