OPINION: Hang on to hope, for it, not fear, builds our future

Morrisons Dereham. Donations being taken for Ukraine. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

Donations being taken for Ukraine in Dereham. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Archant

My life, just as yours, must seem to take place in a parallel universe at the moment. Sublime frosty mornings, earth studded with signs of early spring. Trails of fragile violets smudging the earth; the earth; and the earth.

Wild daffodils and primrose sprouting, pussy-willow and fragile pale catkins dust the bright blue skies. Skies so vividly blue were they to be recreated by some child’s scribblings, they would hold no credence. Yet children often capture the essence we adults fail to recognise.

By contrast, what greyness, what tragedy, what ghastly brutality and utter desolation lie on the borders of Europe today. Courage beyond measure too, but the loss of life, loss of livelihoods, and utter despair among the fleeing families is beyond comprehension.

Refuge seekers are being met by an overarching and exemplary kindness by neighbouring countries. In the UK too, we are contributing in every way we can, and we will continue to do so, without doubt.

However, my concern is this - as we become so saturated by the needs of others across the continents, in this country we start to lose any sense of hope. Too often I hear these words: first Covid, then the floods and now World War 3 in the offing … the world has gone mad, what hope do we have?

It is not surprising perhaps our psychiatric services are seeing such an alarming rise in cases of self-harm and eating disorders among children as young as eight or nine. Children who have lived nearly a quarter of their young lives under the shadow of the pandemic, in fear of drastic climate change, now terrified by the prospect of war, are missing out on that vital component of hope.

It is well known among professional circles how difficult it is to ever predict an individual on the verge of taking his or her life. But one fact resounds. And that is lack of hope. So, what is to be done?

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Creating a sense of belonging, optimism and fun to counter childhood anxiety and fear is of paramount importance.

Our youth groups are re-emerging post pandemic with energy: Guides, Scouts, Cadets of every persuasion: please support these vital organisations in any way you can. Most will welcome new volunteer leaders with open arms.

I was fortunate recently to meet the new vice-chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts. We sat with mugs of coffee and a bag of custard tarts, gazing over the city rooftops as professor Simon Oldfield-Kerr outlined his vision for the future of NUA and for the young people who will come to study there.

What excitement, what a sheer, undiluted rush of hope.

Those who were in the cathedral a few days ago, hearing the choir sing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus will have felt similar stirrings, without a doubt.

And as plans are being finalised to celebrate Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee there is so much to look forward to on every level. The sight and sound of more than a thousand children, with a 60-piece orchestra and African drums, coming together in song at the Royal Norfolk Show, will hopefully create memories to last a life-time.

As AA Milne famously wrote ‘We didn’t realise we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun.’

The appalling tragedy of war, the tales of irreparable damage to our environment, both dominate news as they must. But fear does not build the future. Hope does that.

Meanwhile childhood never waits.

Philippa Dannatt is HM Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk