York WILL have memorial to Covid pandemic - but not in new woodland

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From left, Alan Eves and Jim Lee, of Forestry England, and Cllr Paula Widdowson, at the site of the Community Woodland
From left, Alan Eves and Jim Lee, of Forestry England, and Cllr Paula Widdowson, at the site of the Community Woodland

A LASTING memorial to mark the Covid pandemic will not be created in York’s Community Woodland, as some campaigners had hoped.

But City of York Council is looking at other ways to commemorate the past two years.

Planting at the 194-acres of land to the west of York is already underway, with the ambition to plant 50,000 trees by 2023.

Covid memorial woodlands have been created or proposed in several places across the UK, including Leeds, Newport, Nottingham and Malvern.

The total number of Covid deaths recorded at hospitals in the York trust area has reached almost 800 as of this week.

The council said an area of “peaceful contemplation” will feature in the woodland, but it will not specifically be linked to the pandemic.

Labour councillor Janet Looker has raised the issue with the council’s leadership, but has been left disappointed with the response.

She said she had been thinking during lockdown about the fact she had not seen memorials to the victims of the 1918 flu pandemic, despite it killing more people than the First World War.

York Press: Cllr Janet Looker, of City of York Council
York Press: Cllr Janet Looker, of City of York Council

Cllr Looker said: “It made me think that perhaps we ought to do something to remember the people who – and we haven’t finished yet – have died of this particular pandemic.”

Cllr Looker said she did not want to make her proposal political, adding: “My main feeling is that you need to do something to remember all of those people who have died – and this seemed to me a good way of doing it.”

Derek Utley, a member of York tree planting charity Treemendous, but speaking a personal capacity, said: “They could dedicate a portion of the wood – glade, a coppice, an arbour, for example – to the heroic and unselfish efforts of the thousands of people – doctors, nurses, care workers and ambulance drivers – who tried to alleviate the terrible sufferings and deaths of victims and their friends.

“There are many touching examples in this country and worldwide.

“This feature in the woodland would not be a ‘plague grave’, but a celebration of compassion and valour on behalf of people who truly deserve it.”

Councillor Paula Widdowson, executive member for environment and climate change, said: “York’s communities have shown incredible resilience and spirit over the past two years in the face of sacrifice and loss. We are exploring options to create an appropriate space and sensitive legacy for reflection and remembrance, and recognition of the efforts of our communities throughout this challenging time."

The York Community Woodland will provide a “well-designed, bio-diverse, green space providing a place for peaceful contemplation and leisure for the people of York”, Cllr Widdowson said.

She added: “An area for ‘peaceful contemplation’ will reflect the views of residents who took part in the extensive engagement. Officers are now working with community groups and other stakeholders to develop the design of the site.

“Whilst other plans, including a special thanks to residents and a more lasting memorial are being drawn up with partners in the city, other remembrance spaces and activities are to be led by York Minster throughout this year.”

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