A first year on the job that nobody saw coming - Ilford South's Sam Tarry talks 2020
- Credit: Sam Tarry
Sam Tarry could hardly have imagined the year to come as he celebrated becoming the new MP for Ilford South little over 12 months ago.
With just over a year in post, the home-grown MP discussed his tenure so far: the achievements, the challenges, and what it means to be local.
Rewind to December 2019 - a lifetime given what has transpired since - and the former trade union official was euphoric after being elected by the people of Ilford South.
Back then Sam said "it will be the honour of my life" to represent the constituency. Fast-forward a year and all that has changed is the tense.
When asked for his proudest moment, he said: "Standing up to give my maiden speech, as the MP for the area I grew up in, and have lived the vast majority of my life; referencing places, people and things that shaped who I am and all that I have achieved (because of those roots in Ilford and our local communities) was truly the honour of my lifetime."
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Nothing in an incredibly difficult 2020 has seen him deviate from that view. The MP's opening weeks were dominated by the typical challenges found by any new representative: "The byzantine ways that Parliament operates, how you have to speak, the processes of making legislation, were a lot to take in."
Then in March the nation was hit by a challenge that nobody had encountered before: Covid-19.
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- 4 Almost 250 homes without internet in Goodmayes after car accident takes out telecoms box
- 5 Covid outbreak at Woodford Green care home delays vaccinations
- 6 GPs roll up their sleeves to support colleagues at Queen's Hospital
- 7 Council left homeless family 'stuck in cycle of instability', report finds
- 8 Redevelopment plans likely to be approved despite 144 objections
- 9 Two in five people in Redbridge may have had Covid, data shows
- 10 Double murder accused remanded in custody over ‘brutal’ stabbings
Sam reflects: "I remember back in the spring, reading a private medical report direct from Italy – and thinking that if this spread to the UK and across Europe it would be a defining time for a generation.
"Indeed, I believe this period will be looked back on, more akin to a national war effort - there is little else to compare it with."
His premonition that the pandemic would become defining has sadly proven correct, with the fight far from over.
Trying to establish roots amid this backdrop has been tricky: "A new MP is thrown in at the deep end – you don’t just walk into an office with staff waiting to carry out your plans and do your bidding – it’s much more like setting up a small business from scratch.
"So – doing that, finding good staff, getting processes in place - including recruiting local people from Ilford South in the midst of a global pandemic - has been challenging. I have two staff members currently I have only ever met on a Zoom call, including the job interview!"
Thankfully the unusual circumstances haven't prevented progress: "I have an excellent team who work very hard, and go above and beyond to help people in Ilford South every day."
One of his proudest moments to date involves their work in building Redbridge's Mutual Aid efforts: "Building a network of volunteers from the gurdwaras, temples, churches, mosques, local trade union branches - a genuine cross community effort - with people coming forward to help at a time of crisis which really showed the very best of Ilford."
There are two unique aspects associated with Sam's election: where he's from, and who he replaced.
When asked whether being local adds extra pressure, Sam's clear: if it does, it's something he sees as a privilege.
"I can talk to people about the places they live, the streets they walk, the experiences they have, in a way that is relatable – because it’s the life I’ve lived too."
It's been no easy feat to follow in the footsteps of Mike Gapes, a 27-year long incumbent who held the position for much of Sam's lifetime.
Praising his predecessor as someone who "worked incredibly hard as a constituency MP", he said: "Ilford South residents have rightly expected the same hard work - and I know I have brought a new dynamism and energy to the job from all the positive and kind words so many people get in touch to say."
And of those residents: what does Sam believe needs to be done to help them recover from the pandemic?
"We need a national plan for economic recovery – Labour has set out a comprehensive plan for a green industrial revolution – and I believe we need investment into education, job creation, and the opportunity to start and grow new businesses and create well-paid long-term jobs for people in Ilford."
Ilford South's very own will be leading the charge.