Community resilience in the time of Covid-19

To say we are in the midst of an extreme event would be an understatement. As a result of Covid-19, the whole world is having to readjust to new routines and ways of living. Frontline workers and essential services are working harder than ever and at risk of burnout and getting ill themselves, or worse. This global pandemic is having an impact on our personal and professional lives and the role of the community is more important than ever.

But what do we mean and define as community now? Most people associate the word community with a geographical space, and although this is still true, we are now restricted from accessing those geographical spaces in the traditional way. We also often call our fitness group a community, or our profession, as well as our neighbourhood. These communities are moving to online spaces and are reiterating the importance of connection and shared experience within the context of this extreme situation we find ourselves in.

The passion and commitment that is taking place to create these online spaces is evidence that we as individuals and communities need to connect in order to thrive as well as survive.

Our recent research focused on looking at building community resilience in response to extreme events in Scotland. We held interactive workshops with communities, academics, local organisations, emergency services and local and national government to explore our understanding of resilience and supporting or developing communities.

Our group identified seven main components essential to developing and sustaining a resilient community. These were:

  1. Experience and shared memory: This is extremely evident at the moment in our current situation with Covid-19. We are learning what matters to us, what symbols and rituals of community are of particular importance and recognising the attachment we have to particular places. Collectively we are acknowledging our shared experience and the impact this is having on our sense of selves and community.
  2. Leadership, engagement and shared responsibility: We are likely still figuring this part out, but what is evident is that leadership is emerging in a variety of forms and there is a shared responsibility for supporting everyone through this experience. There has been clear leadership from employers and from government, and also from community groups, individuals and small businesses.
  3. Social ties and wider connections: Our need for connection is stronger than ever right now. The things that link us together such as sports, interests, cultural experiences, religious events, coffee shops, libraries and other shared spaces have all shifted into an online space. It is taking time to adjust to this new way of interacting , however the passion and commitment that is taking place to create these online spaces is evidence that we as individuals and communities need to connect in order to thrive as well as survive.
  4. Mindset, collective thinking, openness to adapt and cultural change: This is also an incredibly important aspect of community resilience that has emerged through this current Covid-19 crisis. We need to be able to adapt to this new way of being in order to keep going. We need to acknowledge that there are different ways of working, different ways of knowing and different ways of interacting with the physical and natural world that need to be embraced and celebrated. This is not an easy process and we need to support each other through these learnings.
  5. Integration, inclusivity, equity and diversity: With the move to online spaces and the recognition that this crisis is happening to communities all over the world, we are able to see how diverse we are in how we are managing with our new routines. With the prevalence of social media being at the front of how we are staying connected, we are able to see the importance of needing to include everyone’s voice and experience within our collective healing efforts.
  6. Communications, social support and co-ordination: Much like the above points, the importance of clear communication and co-ordination cannot be under-emphasised. We have seen how different countries and communities have responded to this crisis and the impact of sharing accurate information appropriately in order to co-ordinate logistical processes and support communities. Communities need to be able to trust communication they receive, but also need to be trusted to form themselves and establish communication, support and processes that are specific to their own needs.
  7. Training and identifying local needs: This experience is calling on a variety of skills and training in order to be recognised and nurtured. It is essential that communities are able to act on their own strengths and weaknesses in order to support their action in an emergency situation.

With the prevalence of social media being at the front of how we are staying connected, we are able to see the importance of needing to include everyone’s voice and experience within our collective healing efforts.

We have seen extraordinary community responses to managing this unprecedented time that we find ourselves in. From orchestras performing live from their own houses, to neighbours finally getting to know each other by supporting those that cannot leave their home to get the basic necessities, to coming together and clapping for those in the health and social care services that are working overtime to get us all through this. These acts are essential to building resilience so that our communities can come through this stronger than before.

Dr Sandra Engstrom
Bio: Dr Sandra Engstrom is a lecturer in social work at the University of Stirling. Her research tends to focus on the socio-emotional impact of climate change and community resilience to extreme events.

Thank you to the University of Stirling’s Extremes in Science and Society research programme for helping shape the development of Communities Prepared’s public health module. Click here for more information and to download for free.

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