If someone had mentioned a ‘Covid initiative’ this time last year, no doubt you would have treated their utterances by trotting on quick speed and bemoaning the collective lunacy that seemed to have pervaded certain quarters.

Fast forward 12 months and we are at one with such a turn of phrase, as we openly discuss the mentality of the herd, Pfizer vaccines, lockdowns (three and counting) and R rates (no, me neither). Other public groundswells of opinion have resulted in movements on a domestic and international scale, be they BLM or the artist formerly known as ‘clap for carers’.

At the risk of sounding like a heartless Harold, I never bought into the concept of the latter, and it seems with the reinvention of the initiative (now known as clap for heroes), I am not alone.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love what the NHS stands for as much as the next man, but found I couldn’t muster the strength, against my value system, to lay skin on skin and stand on my doorstep in the hazy, lazy and crazy summer of 2020, by clapping in unison with neighbourly friend and foe alike.

I found then, as now, the whole process extremely patronising and do not mean any slight on the NHS or those who sail in her. My mother was an A&E nurse and yours truly worked, for a short while, in procurement at St Tommy’s back in the 1990s (which was as dull a job as it sounds).

I am also aware that for every nurse on the ‘front line’, which is a term I dislike heartedly, as it should be reserved for those in the forces fighting enemies on foreign fields, there are numerous managers who are as near to front line action as a conscientious objector was from the line of fire.

So, as I felt societal pressure to clap for carers in the summer, I asked myself who, or what exactly are we applauding? Are we clapping for the ‘front line’ staff on Covid wards or for the numerous support staff, the car park attendant, or the managers, sitting in the comfort of their homes as they work in NHS finance? Will the clapping make a difference or is it patronising for the few who are truly ‘front line’ and who would no doubt prefer a bit more bunce in the pay packet? I pondered whether the initiative was, in reality, a virtue-signalling excuse for folk to make some noise by banging a wooden spoon on a Teflon saucepan of an evening? I found it tiresome then, as I do now.

And so, we move on to the latest incarnation of the initiative: ‘clap for heroes’, which has now extended the recipients of the clap from NHS staff and carers, to teachers (of which I am one) and postmen. The organisers neglectfully did not include the refuse collectors as, no doubt, like me, they also did not have their excess binnage taken after new year, despite increased council taxes, smaller bins and longer collection wait times, but I digress.

I read the comments sections on news sites and constructed a poll on a local Facebook group I run, asking if folk would be standing on their doorsteps in the bleak midwinter to clap unseen recipients who may well be working nights and would not appreciate Tony from number 94 playing bad percussion on kitchen utensils, and I found the results were as damning as my summary.

There were 68 respondents. Of those, 61 stated they would not be clapping on the doorstep, four would, and three were unsure. Of the 89 per cent nays, which included health staff and teachers, their reasoning was that it was indeed ‘patronising’, it ‘changed little’, and that thanks should be in the form of a ‘healthy pay rise’. The Nursing Times ran a similar, but more professional one would surmise, research round, and nurses stated that the only thanks they required was for people to ‘stay at home’ and that the clap was a ‘hollow’ gesture. Umbrage was also taken with the term ‘heroes’. Nurse Vicky Bentley responded ‘we aren’t heroes, or brave. We are educated professionals with careers in nursing’ and I agree wholeheartedly with that view.

Although on lockdown now, I, along with thousands of other dedicated teaching professionals, have been going into the breach, for months, with no PPE in class, as we surround ourselves in enclosed spaces with others not wearing masks. We don’t see ourselves as ‘heroes’ or martyrs, and nor should we: we are but doing a job, to the best our ability, as we await the latest Government flip flop and indecision in which to make our, and our students lots, better by doing the one thing they seem incapable of: Taking a decision in good time.

Clapping on your doorsteps will not change that, and means nothing to most of us ‘heroes’, so please stop it now, and push for a change in systems, decision making processes, and pay and conditions as a real, meaningful gesture of thanks.

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher