THE SIGN outside my local pub in Hambledon has been welcoming people to an Independence Day party on July 4 for several weeks – and this week we found out their gamble has paid off with what Boris Johnson called the end of ‘hibernation.’

We are slowly moving to the next phase of the pandemic – not back to normal but to what many are calling the ‘new normal.’

We will, of course, reflect that Covid has caused numerous personal tragedies. Loved ones have been lost, front-line professionals have themselves suffered for their bravery and the highest price has often been paid by those already likely to in poverty or subject to discrimination in its many different shapes and sizes.

On top of that is the economic cost: people who have lost their job or their business and are now wondering what the future holds.

But as we think about the next chapter, I hope we also remember some of the silver linings. The Farnham resident who collected the phone numbers of every member of his street to create their first ever local WhatsApp group. The community stores in Godalming, Farnham and Haslemere helping hundreds of struggling families. The helplines and support groups that have arranged for shopping and prescriptions to be delivered to vulnerable people living on their own.

Some unexpected changes will now become permanent, such as video consultations with GPs – not just more convenient for many people but a godsend for those who find travel difficult.

I hope we can keep the pollution levels down permanently in the centre of Farnham, where I know the town council is working hard to replace ugly cones with more attractive plant pots that will make the pavements wider.

Risks to health – individual or collective – always strengthen families and communities as people reassess priorities.

One of the things that binds our community together is our local newspaper so many congratulations to the Herald for being named weekly newspaper of the year in the Regional Press Awards, run by the Society of Editors.

It is a richly-deserved honour for all those who have been working hard to keep the paper going through the pandemic, despite a big loss of advertising revenue.

The future for the newspaper industry still remains uncertain so if we want to keep our local paper we need to support it – as happens so magnificently with the Heralds in Farnham and Haslemere.

So let’s enjoy our new freedoms – but with sensible care as we are not through the pandemic yet.