Published: 06:00, 18 January 2021
| Updated: 15:19, 18 January 2021
To say that 2020 was a year to forget would be an understatement.
But as the New Year starts on a similar footing to how the last ended with rising infection rates and hospitals full of people with Covid-19 across Kent you could be forgiven for feeling somewhat dreary this morning.
However, there is fresh cause for optimism with the vaccine rollout underway, charting a path towards some degree of normality.
Yet away from the centre stage of world health there are other important trends which provide solid grounds for progress, and perhaps even, some reasons to be cheerful on what is claimed to be the most depressing day of the year today, Blue Monday.
Around the world airports, roads and cities have all seen traffic numbers plummet correlating in a fall in harmful carbon emissions.
The same has been true here in Kent with it reported back in May how the Dartford Crossing - the major road artery connecting the county with the rest of the country - had seen the number of journeys more than halved.
Elsewhere, a roadside station in Chatham, Medway - which had previously been found to be one of the worst places for air pollution in the South East - saw its pollution readings halve since the same two-week period last year.
A third lockdown is likely to sow similar benefits for the environment although just how far reaching these positive changes are remains a topic of debate.
And while efforts to rally the economy again will undoubtedly correspond in an increase in pollution-raising activity once more we have already seen a change in mindset.
Supermarket shortages encouraged us to engage in a bigger discussion about where we source our food from and a push towards local produce; and employers were forced to challenge age old assumptions about the ability of workers to work from home unsupervised.
Lockdown or not, locally sourced products and fewer journeys to work are likely to produce a sustained improvement in air quality and a long-term reduction in congestion and traffic hold-ups which can only be welcome.
Bison bring a biodiversity boost
Biodiversity is also set to be given a boost with the reintroduction of wild bisons to the Kent countryside next year after an absence dating back thousands of years.
The last wild European bison - the continent's largest land mammal - is thought to have been shot dead in Poland in 1919. By 1927, the only members of the species left were kept in captivity.
But in recent years, the magnificent beasts' population has increased thanks to successful wilding projects across the continent.
Now, the £1.1m Wilder Blean project, headed up by the Wildwood Trust and Kent Wildlife Trust, will see the beasts reintroduced in Blean Woods, near Canterbury, along with other grazing animals such as Konik ponies.
"We can now take an important step towards reversing the terrifying rate of species loss in the UK,” said Paul Hadaway, director of conservation at Kent Wildlife Trust.
“Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape.”
Bison are regarded as defenders of wildlife as keystone species, which helps allow other habitats to thrive for varied species including grassland birds and plants.
Fences are set to soon be installed around a 500-acre site to the west of the site as preparations are made for the animals’ much-anticipated arrival.
It will also pave the way for one of the most exciting job opportunities witnessed for quite some time with the wildlife trusts advertising for two bison ranger roles.
Pandemic triggers surge in business start-ups and collaborations
Lockdowns have hit businesses hard with many established companies either going bust or facing tough choices over whether to furlough or let go of many hard-working employees.
Many of these laid-off workers have gone on to launch their own companies who perhaps might have done so had it not been for the pandemic.
Whether you’re a star baker father and son duo from Tunbridge Wells who have identified a niche in the market, a master crafter with an eye for designing and creating your own clothes, or a tech entrepreneur, there's opportunity out there.
And with start-up loans available of up to £25,000 there has arguably never been a better time to break away from your 9 to 5 and start your own venture.
There’s also lots of mentoring support on offer too with new ways to collaborate and work with others.
This month will see the grand opening of what has been billed as the next “mini silicon valley” in Dartford.
The Hill Hub development is a new co-working space for entrepreneurs, freelancers and start ups which has been created from a former police station and magistrate’s court.
The masterminds behind the project have partnered with Kent Foundation, a charity offering free business advice and mentoring to young entrepreneurs and business owners in the county aged 30 and under.
Every young business owner will be entitled to access free support from the Foundation and will be assigned a trained business mentor to support them on a regular basis.
Kent theatres and art venues set to return
Much of our lockdown lives has been spent staring at screens as Netflix and other online streaming services capitalised on the extra time spent indoors.
The UK’s arts and entertainment sector has suffered as a result and was one of the areas worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
In July the government announced a £1.57bn rescue package for the arts and cultural sector and while this was welcome the Culture Secretary admitted this would not prevent further redundancies.
The return of theatres, museums, music venues and galleries is expected to be gradual rather than a symbolic raising of the curtain but will be hugely welcomed to those starved of public performances.
But the show will go on virtually for now with the Stag Theatre's show in Sevenoaks eager to reopen for Easter with bookings being taken for certain productions later in the year across the county’s various theatres.
And there is light at the end of the tunnel it would appear elsewhere.
Cineworld is expected to reopen its cinemas earlier than expected due to the creation of the new Covid-19 vaccines.
"We are very encouraged by the giant steps achieved recently with regards to the Covid-19 vaccination process, which is expected to be put in place earlier than previously anticipated,” it said in a statement last month.
“This will generate significant relief for our industry and enable our cinemas to make a great comeback.”
The cinema chain - which has picture houses in Rochester, Ashford, Dover - closed all of its venues in October because of the pandemic and a shortfall of studio releases.
With one eye to the future there’s also hope for an expanded programme of high-profile events to complement the county’s existing programme.
Medway's bid to become UK City of Culture 2025 officially launched last year with the unveiling of new branding and a website, plus an invitation for people to get involved.
Over the course of this year, the Medway Towns are campaigning to clinch the prestigious title which would see green spaces, high streets, stadiums and shopping centres turned into galleries and theatres, showcasing local and national creative talent.
Kent athletes set to grace the world stage at the Tokyo Olympics
Nothing rouses a country’s spirit quite like a good sporting showing at the Olympic Games - albeit likely to be in the form of shouting at a screen from the comfort of your home, or at a push a pub.
Who can forget the mood shift which followed Team GB’s illustrious and to some, unexpected, medal haul at the London 2012 games, or the record-breaking follow up at Rio four years later.
The next edition is due to take place in Tokyo in just over six months time and organisers are confident it will go ahead despite rising infections locally.
And there are set to be plenty of Kent athletes bidding to represent the nation on the world stage yet again.
Dartford’s Adam Gemili missed out on bronze five years ago in Rio in the 200m by three thousandths of a second following a photo-finish and could be poised for a return.
Others hoping to make the podium include Gravesend boxer Cheavon Clarke.
The 29-year-old heavyweight is one of the hottest prospects of the GB Boxing team and was just days away from the qualification bouts when the decision to postpone was made last year.
Now the road to Toyko has been paved with the re-organised qualifying event set to take place in London in April.