2020 was the year that changed our lives, but it wasn’t all terrible. Here, we round the many positive, generous and life-affirming moments that make the year worth remembering.
Now that we’ve reached the tail end of a uniquely challenging year, most us of are understandably eager to turn over a fresh page. And while there is no minimising the harsh realities that have been felt around the world, there have also been several incredible moments of strength, progress and joy that have shown the future really does look bright.
Given that 2020 has frequently been branded an unsalvageable mess, however, you may well be in need of a reminder. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up just some of the truly amazing things that happened this year. From local acts of kindness to major worldwide movements, these are the moments we’ll remember in years to come.
Scotland became the first country in the world to provide free period products
According to research, about 10% of girls in the UK have been unable to afford period products, directly impacting their education when they miss school. In November, MSPs unanimously passed the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, which mandates that local authorities must ensure that anyone who needs period products can obtain them for free, taking a step in the right direction towards ending period poverty for good.
Marcus Rashford successfully campaigned to feed hungry school children
Back in the summer, 23-year-old footballer Marcus Rashford led a galvanising campaign for the government to allow approximately 1.3 million children to claim free school meals during the summer holidays.
Rashford’s fight to end child food poverty didn’t stop there. The Manchester United striker, who was the recipient of free school meals during his childhood, forced the government to make a U-turn after they refused to extend the scheme to feed underprivileged children over future school holidays in October.
After launching a petition, coordinating a nationwide movement and continuing to lobby the government during the autumn, Boris Johnson reversed his decision and pledged a £170m winter grant scheme to support vulnerable families in the Easter, summer and Christmas breaks next year.
Women leaders got things done
We have to hand it to the women leaders around the world for triumphing in the face of toughest of circumstances this year.
Take the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who masterfully steered her country through the pandemic and secured its status as the world’s most COVID-resilient country. She then she won re-election in October by a landslide, and followed up by hiring the more diverse cabinet in New Zealand’s history. Or Taiwan’s first female president, Tsai Ing-wen, who also won her re-election in January, then instituted a highly successful pandemic response: to date, it has only recorded 795 cases and 7 deaths.
German chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, accepted approximately 2,750 people into Germany following a devastating fire in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos in September. Not only did her compassionate response to the migrant crisis encourage other EU countries to accept refugees made homeless by the fire, but her effective handling of the pandemic boosted her popularity rating.
Frontline workers got the recognition they deserve
Much of the news coverage this year has been dedicated to the stories of NHS and healthcare workers on the frontline, and with good reason: their Herculean efforts to care for the sick and save lives during the greatest public health challenge in NHS history has been nothing short of remarkable.
This year, we realised like never before how the UK relies upon the skill, dedication and compassion of the 1.3 million-strong army of nurses, midwives, GPs, physios, pharmacists, healthcare and maternity care assistants, porters, cleaners, and countless other staff to keep ticking.
In return, we honoured their tireless efforts by masking up, socially-distancing, staying home and clapping on our doorsteps every Thursday during the spring. Now, we must persist with those measures to slow the spread of the virus, and turn our appreciation of the NHS into tangible support by amplifying calls for adequate protective clothing and equipment, additional staffing, and a much-deserved pay rise.
Carbon emissions fell by a record amount
While we were all staying put inside our homes this year, the planet took a breath. According to research from the University of East Anglia, the University of Exeter and the Global Carbon Project, global greenhouse gas emissions plunged by roughly 2.4 billion tonnes this year, a significant 7% drop from 2019 and the largest decline on record. The study also showed that the UK experienced a steep 13% drop in carbon emissions because of reductions in transport, which is our largest source of pollution.
We may not have been consciously thinking about decreasing our carbon emissions, but the greener measures we adopted during the pandemic - walking, cycling, next-to-no flying - certainly had a positive impact upon the environment. Now that we’ve had a preview of how these small lifestyle changes can really help curb climate change, we’ve a chance to stop pollution rising again in 2021.
Black Lives Matter became a global movement against structural racism
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” started life as a viral hashtag in 2013 when George Zimmerman was acquitted on all charges of killing Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed Black teenager who was shot after going shopping in his Florida neighbourhood. In the seven years that followed, Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza built a powerful, coordinated organisation fighting for the wellbeing of Black people in the US.
Following the murders of Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker who was fatally shot by Louisville police during a botched raid on her apartment in March, and George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer in May, however, the Black Lives Matter movement became a global phenomenon. People took to the streets across the world in protest against police brutality and systemic racism, which in turn rippled into wider society. We had important conversations about being actively anti-racist, supporting Black businesses, confronting the legacy of colonialism and white supremacy, and demanding change from our political institutions.
This year, we committed to valuing the contributions of the Black community, fighting inequalities, and repeating the message that Black Lives Matter, now and always.
We started caring more about the community
As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March, we witnessed the amazing things that happen when people band together. Stories of generosity, kindness and compassion were everywhere to be found; from people organising food deliveries for vulnerable neighbours, to rainbow artwork made by children and displayed in windows to cheer up passers-by and offer a message of support to frontline workers during lockdown.
Though the acts of kindness are too many to count, there is a common thread that unites them all: they were all small. We saw how we could foster a connection and community simply by giving our loved ones a call, expressing gratitude more frequently, clapping for the NHS on our doorsteps and supporting local businesses suffering economic fallout.
Interestingly, recent research from thortful has shown attitudes to kindness and altruism have experienced a surge since Covid-19 started to spread. As we navigate our way through the rocky terrain ahead, we’d do well to remember that not only are we hardwired to be kind to one another, but also that practising kindness makes us happier and healthier, too.
Kamala Harris made history
The US election was historic for a number of reasons, not least because of the highest voter turnout in 120 years. And after Joe Biden was projected as the next president of the United States, there came another stop-the-world moment: Kamala Harris.
On 7 November, the Californian senator officially became the first woman, the first Black woman, and the first South Asian woman to be elected vice president in the history of the United States. Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, has risen higher in the country’s leadership than any woman has done before. She told crowds in her victory speech that “while I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.”
We started to appreciate life’s simple pleasures
Many of us anticipated that the pandemic would disrupt the normal order of things, but few could have foreseen what a positive transformation would take place in our lives throughout the year.
Thanks in large part to the home working revolution and the restrictions mandating that we stay in our local neighbourhoods, we gained a renewed appreciation for the simple things: reading a book, going for a walk, working on a puzzle or baking a loaf of bread (sourdough, naturally).
The slower pace of life also helped us ponder the things in life that truly matter: good health, connecting with family and loved ones, spending time in nature. As much as we’re looking forward to dining out, going on holiday and stepping inside a bar or club once more, we’ve had a powerful reminder that life can be rich and meaningful without constant external stimulus. Here’s hoping we can take these lessons forward when a post-pandemic world arrives.
Two coronavirus vaccines were developed in record-breaking time
Of all the good things to give us hope for 2021, this is arguably the best of them all.
There are now two Covid-19 vaccines thanks to the work of determined scientists leading a global rescue mission: British vaccinologist and lead researcher on the Oxford Vaccine Development Programme Sarah Gilbert, who designed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and husband-and-wife duo Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, the architects of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine which was memorably administered to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, the first patient to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in the UK and the world. Their lives’ work have heralded one of the biggest medical breakthroughs in history, and, rather inspiringly, they also live by the motto: “Nothing good happens if one doesn’t make it happen.”