In July 2020 Cllr Tauseef Anwar became the Council’s Speaker. Prior to the pandemic, he would have been expected to attend more than 200 civic and community events over the course of the year. Instead, his engagement has largely been restricted to online activities, such as chairing full council meetings.

“I was very excited to take this role, with the hope that by the autumn we would get back to some kind of semi-normal life, taking part in different events and hosting our two big events for other civic Mayors: one at the historical Goldsmith Building and the other in the House of Lords. Sadly, however, both of these were cancelled. I think this has been my biggest personal disappointment of the pandemic. I have been able to chair the full council meetings though as these have been online.

“As a businessman I have, like many, experienced difficulties. Business overall has been affected immensely by the pandemic, and this has caused much emotional and financial stress. Thankfully, this second lockdown has allowed us to adapt our practices to become COVID-compliant. It has been a learning curve that has developed the business to work efficiently. Nevertheless the impact of COVID-19 will be felt for some time.

“I am pleased to say no one in my immediate family has become very ill through coronavirus. However, many friends and acquaintances have had to go through severe health challenges and even lost lives to COVID, including Dr Zaidi from Southend-on-Sea - the first doctor in the UK to lose his life to COVID.

“The pandemic has been a rollercoaster experience in terms of mental health for many people. I have personally missed meeting family and friends, and one of the hardest things is not being able to visit my elderly father in Pakistan. I have tried to maintain a level of positivity and optimism throughout which has kept me going, but despite this I have had many low times.

“Technology has been a shining beacon of light though. My work has been heavily reliant on video meeting software - Zoom, Teams and Google Meet. Without these vital technological platforms it would have been difficult to keep our services and political roles running. These same platforms have allowed me to participate with various engagements for my business.

“One very positive thing throughout this crisis has been communities coming together and helping each other. I have seen neighbours setting up WhatsApp groups to support and comfort one another. We saw the Clap for Carers, which was something my neighbourhood looked forward to every week. This community spirit and connection would not have been achieved had it not been for this unique COVID-19 lockdown. Over £200,000 was donated to Mayor’s appeal for Lewisham’s food bank – an overwhelming response which shows how much people of Lewisham care about each other. All these things always make me proud to live in Lewisham and represent the people of Lewisham.

“I had been thinking about how I could do something positive for the community in this pandemic. I learned that in Lewisham the use of food banks had increased 300%. With the support of a national charity, Muslim Hands, I launched a new Soup Kitchen outside Lewisham Islamic Centre in January. Here we have been serving 100-130 fresh hot meals daily to those in need. People come to us and we have also been delivering meals to around 10 families locally who are unable to collect. This project, ‘Need to Feed’, has gone from strength to strength, with meals being distributed faster each day. Many people have supported us and volunteered, and the community spirit has been exceptional.

“I fear this pandemic is going to leave a lasting impression on our younger generations – in terms of their education system and their emotional, mental and financial well-being. Life is

not going to be same and history is going to be divided between pre- and post-COVID. We have been warned that social distancing may still be needed for a very long time.

“I am an eternal optimist and despite this very difficult time, developments with vaccination and treatments leave me hopeful. We have seen millions of our vulnerable citizens and front line workers receive the vaccine already. We can see light at the end of the tunnel and I do have hope that, while life may not be the exactly same, we will go back to being able to go out to the cinema, see our family and friends, and finally hug each other.

“This has taught us the lesson that in the future our Government will need to be prepared for similar situations, logistically and financially. In this crisis no one was ready - neither central nor local government - but still our local councils all over the country have responded swiftly and effectively to help residents and businesses.”

Tauseef spoke to us in February 2021