By Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive at the British Science Association


Last year was one of the strangest periods in living memory for so many of us – and 2021, it seems, is continuing that theme. The British weather is bleak, the economy is rocky and the restrictions on our daily lives seem endless and brutal. But, despite the challenges, there are still some reasons to be hopeful. On a personal level, the rollout of the vaccination programme and rapidly-emerging treatments mean we are likely to be able to see our families and friends, re-open our businesses, return to our studies and dust off our travel plans before the year ends. On a societal level, the pandemic has brought about some fundamental shifts which should give us all some reasons to be hopeful. Here are a few things that I learnt from 2020 to take forward into the rest of this year. 
Slow down. Take some time. So many things we thought were important or necessary back in 2019 turned out in 2020 to be superfluous or indulgent. Some things will never need to return to their pre-pandemic ways – for example, travelling halfway across the world for business meetings or having to go to the office to do your job. This will open up opportunities for more of us to play our part. For example, if researchers no longer need to go regularly to international conferences, that enables more researchers with caring responsibilities or certain long-term health conditions to participate – and we can all then benefit from the breakthroughs those researchers will make. Another opportunity that has presented itself is the importance of supporting local businesses who, in this difficult time, face decisions of whether to close their doors or not. Local businesses contribute so much vitality to the communities they inhabit.  
One of COVID-19's most appalling features is that it disproportionately affects minority ethnic populations. Combined with last summer’s campaigning by Black Lives Matter activists, this led to a ‘wake-up call’ for many about the existence and scale of structural racism within the UK. Many institutions began long-overdue work to recognise and address the effects of structural racism in their own organisations. More resources and attention have, finally, been targeted at this issue. Within our own organisation we have started on a long journey whereby we hope to transform the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) of our organisation and that of the wider science engagement sector. This is something we are excited to work on, though it has raised some important reflections. I hope that, this year, we will begin to see real inclusion more broadly across different sectors. 
The last year has challenged some of our assumptions on who should be valued in our society. We’ve seen mutual aid groups spring up to help neighbours support each other. There is greater recognition and respect for people doing difficult jobs that keep our communities going – nurses, refuse collectors, teachers, carers, funeral directors, bus drivers, shop workers, nursery nurses, health care assistants, paramedics and many, many others. A record proportion of young people aspire to careers in the medical and care sectors according to our own research. Food banks and homeless charities worked harder than ever before to support the growing number of people who needed their help. St John Ambulance has recruited 30,000 members of the public to administer vaccines to at-risk groups. The networks and skills created or strengthened in this crisis will help us to support society’s most marginalised groups for decades to come. 
COVID-19's urgency showed us that we can innovate more rapidly than we previously thought possible. It showed us how much we can achieve when we can work effectively across international borders. It showed us that we all need to play a part in putting science to work. If we apply the same urgency to climate change, perhaps we can make a real change? Our British Science Week 2021 theme, 'Innovating for the future', seeks to include people who don’t feel included in the science sector. Inclusion makes for more effective and dynamic innovation – and that is something we should all be championing this year. 
What are your reasons to be hopeful?