Published: 17:00, 23 March 2021
| Updated: 17:17, 23 March 2021
If we transport back to exactly this time last year, it was hard to comprehend just how extensively our lives were on the cusp of changing.
While we had already been encouraged to work from home, if possible, just days away on March 23, 2020 this turned into England's first lockdown as Covid-19 cases soared.
"From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction - you must stay at home.”
With those words, on March 23, the Prime Minister ushered in the first Covid-19 lockdown and changed all our lives.
Many workplaces were left deserted, schools were closed to all but the vulnerable and children of key workers, and town centres took on an eerie quality as shops, gyms pubs and restaurants closed to the public.
The nation was also being told of extensive new police powers to fine people who ignored the instruction to only go out for essential food and supplies or outdoor exercise and families were tragically separated.
A scramble was taking place with the military to set up an NHS Nightingale hospital in London which stood ready to take people if local hospitals became overwhelmed.
The first confirmed case of coronavirus in Kent had emerged in early March at a business based at Maidstone Studios and in the weeks that followed, an unsettled nation began panic-buying supplies of food and toilet roll, leading to bare shelves.
With Boris Johnson’s annnouncement Swale’s High Streets turned into ghost towns.
Stephen Jackson, from Teynham, owns Jacksonwood vintage tea rooms in Sheerness High Street, and was forced to try and adapt.
“It’s been a disaster. An absolute disaster,” the 61-year-old said a year on from the first lockdown.
“We’ve probably only been open about three months in the past year and have had to try and find a way to pay £800 in monthly costs.
“We initially got a £10,000 grant from the government and an extra £1,300 in December for the second lockdown but nothing since then. How are we meant to survive on that?
“Unlike other places I can’t just offer takeaways as people come in for the vintage experience. We rely on visitors coming in but that’s stopped after the multiple lockdowns.
“I can’t see how we will survive this, but I’ll try my best when we reopen. Luckily I have a very understanding landlord, but many other places won’t be so lucky.
“You feel like giving up. I don’t know if I’m looking forward to getting back into it or not.”
Over the year there have been moments of hope. One of these was so-called ‘Super Saturday’ where pubs, restaurants and salons were allowed to re-open.
'We haven't earned any income in the last year from the kiosk...'
Throughout August we were encouraged to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ a government scheme offering discounted meals to give pubs and restaurants a boost.
But with cases on the rise and hundreds of pupils being sent home from schools, a lockdown followed in November, before the Tier system put Kent at the harshest level of restriction - first Tier 3, then the stricter 4 just days before Christmas. Non-essential shops and venues closed once more.
In January the third lockdown took effect.
Stephen has owned the business for two-and-a-half years and says despite uncertainty over the shops future, the High Street will survive.
Pubs were one of the many places affected badly, with longstanding music pub Ypres Tavern in Sittingbourne forced to close its doors.
In December the West Street site boarded up its doors. It had been known for its live music.
Henry Eakin and his twin brother Oliver, both 23, had planned to reopen a Leysdown kiosk in March before the pandemic hit.
"We had loads planned for a big opening in March - entertainers, clowns a bird show, but it all got cancelled.
"We haven't earned any income in the last year from the kiosk, but we're looking forward to some big things next month.
In June parents, teachers and children braced themselves to return to classrooms after staff put new safety measures in place.
She hit out at suggestions by the government that youngsters could socially distance.
"To expect our youngest children to sit on a chair and not move for five hours a day is morally wrong," she said.
"Besides, they will find the classrooms stark and shocking. And the quality of learning on offer will be very static and traumatic for them which could give them a phobia about coming back to school. The needs of the children must be overriding.
Last year Fulston Manor head teacher and chair of the Kent Association of Headteachers, Alan Brookes, said he wouldn't open his school gates unless it was "completely safe to do so".
He added how he had concerns teachers and pupils could be "taking the virus home," and that sufficient PPE should be provided for teachers.
However, last week and around 10 months since his comments, he was looking forward to welcoming pupils back to school.
He said: “Obviously, heads are very keen to have all their students back as quickly as possible.
"But there is also a sense of nervousness.
“We remember, I’m afraid, all too well what happened in November and December, and the difficulties as the virus spread very quickly in schools.
“So although we are keen to have our students back, I think it will be very tense over the next two or three weeks to see how this develops.”
One heart-warming feature of the pandemic and lockdown has been the camaraderie of the people of Kent, whether it be clapping on their door steps or displaying a rainbow at windows.
Thousands of people in the county flooded social media and their windows with brightly coloured pictures to show their appreciation for the NHS and key workers.
Sheppey siblings Ellis Pearce, 12, and his sister Shayley, 9, made four and blazoned them with expert advice such as 'stay positive', 'we will get through this' and 'stay in, save lives.'
They proved such a hit with neighbours in Prince Charles Avenue, Minster, that the pair were asked to paint another 39.
Care home residents found family visits were off limits, as restrictions were strict to ensure residents were shielded.
This meant in September heartbroken daughter Jane Driscoll, from Sittingbourne, had only seen her 85-year-old mum Rita once in six months.
It lead her to back a campaign to provide "safe visits" for care home residents.
She said: "You cannot deal with this by simply locking our loved ones away and not letting anyone see them.
"Not being able to see my mum at the beginning of lockdown, when the whole of society was locked down, was understandable – no-one could see their loved ones.
'My mum is in a home 10 minutes down the road but the current government guidelines forbid me to see her.'
"But, I have been fighting since July to see her, after we were told we can go on a plane, go to a pub or a restaurant, have a massage, get our eyebrows done and so on.
"My mum is in a home 10 minutes down the road but the current government guidelines forbid me to see her."
Since March last year there have been more than 143,000 deaths as a result of Covid-19, with around 4.26 million cases of the virus.
The country experienced its first peak in April, which began to decrease until around October, where figures began to rise again.
In November as Covid-19 cases began to rise again Swale hit national headlines as it became the worst hit part of the country.
Things got so bad that an emergency meeting was held between the local authority, Kent County Council, Kent Police, the prison service, Department for Work and Pensions and the local voluntary sector.
On November 23 it was revealed Swale had the highest infection rate per 100,000 people, with figures at 631.7.
These astronomical statistics forced the borough into a Tier 4 lockdown just a month later.
Since then rates have dropped. It is currently 45.3, which is lower than England's figure of 58.7 and 13 times smaller than the November rate.