Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Coming together in times of tragedy

Life can be extremely random and the tragic air crash at the Shoreham Air Show highlights how fragile life and peace can be.

It is still incredible to me that on a warm Saturday afternoon, when so many people were enjoying a wonderful day out with their family, that peace was completely shattered.

News footage captures one woman’s instinctive reaction as she watches, powerless and in horror, as the Hawker Hunter plane fails to pull out of a loop and crashes into the busy A27 below. The mother reaches her arm out and pulls her child into an embrace.

That instinct to protect those we love is fundamental to us all. 

So while few of us can begin to imagine the despair felt by all those who knew and loved the victims of the Shoreham Air Show, our condolences for those who lost loved ones on that fateful day are truly heartfelt.

Social workers from West Sussex rushed to Worthing Hospital on the day to support all those facing such terrible loss.

That support will be there for as long as it is needed – helping bereaved families not only to try to come to terms with such a terrible loss but to deal with more mundane matters which must now seem so trivial.  

The natural warmth and compassion that draws people to a career in social work is vital at times like this but exposure to such raw grief will take its toll on all those professionals involved.

It is our duty not only to care for those families in greatest need but to support those sent in to save or support in times of crisis.

I am humbled by the emotional resilience demonstrated by our social workers, not just in times of crisis but every day of their working lives. 

It is with a mixture of humility and pride that I also reflect on the enormity of the task faced by all our emergency services in the hours and days after the crash.

Shortly after the tragic accident, a major incident was declared, with Sussex Police taking the strategic lead under Gold Command of all those first responders.

That included the ten pumps from West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service which were very quickly on the site.

These teams undergo regular training for major incidents, the value of which has been clearly on display in recent days.

However no amount of training could possibly prepare them for the horror of what they must have witnessed on arrival. Amid scenes of true devastation and horror, the emergency teams have worked valiantly, selflessly and with total dedication to the task in hand.

They deserve all the tributes they have so rightly received and my heartfelt thanks to all of them.

My thanks also go out to the men and women of the Red Cross who turned out day after day, and in some utterly appalling weather conditions, to make sure those working on site had food and warm drinks while they carried out their grim task.

The work to rebuild now begins.

To rebuild family lives shattered by those horrific events of Saturday, to help those who saw that appalling crash come to terms with their memories, to support our staff who have worked so tirelessly in its aftermath, to get the road re-opened and traffic flowing and to help Shoreham and the wider Sussex community to move on from that day.

And while we rebuild we must rely on all our staff to make sure our first class services are not disrupted through these difficult and dark days.

We are not alone in this endeavour.  I am so grateful to our local authority partners in East Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Brighton and Hove who have offered whatever additional assistance we may need.

I have also been extremely moved by the show of solidarity from the public. I visited Shoreham’s toll bridge on Monday where floral tributes arrive by the minute and gentle tributes are laid.

Reading those messages it is clear to me that the instinct to protect stretches far beyond our immediate family, it stretches in sorrow to those we have never met but who we know are suffering.

The work to rebuild will take some time so it is reassuring to know everyone is pulling together at a time of great need.

And be assured that long after the media crews have pulled out of Shoreham and the terrible memories of that day begin to fade for those who were not there we will all continue to be there for those who were.

Best wishes,

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