“The pandemic has made people think of themselves as custodians of the village as a whole… I can’t see that stopping over night.” People in the South West say that the pandemic will change their behaviour and lead to a longer-term boost in community spirit.
Research from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, suggests that the pandemic could be a step-change moment for the South West, leading people to make lasting changes to how they live their lives and the connections they build with friends, family and the wider community.
As the UK recently marked the anniversary of the first lockdown on March 23, over seven in ten (72%) in the South West say that they will change their behaviour as a result of the pandemic, with an emphasis on enjoying a simpler more pared back life post-COVID.
The findings come from a newly-launched Community Research Index – an annual survey of over 7,000 adults across the UK designed to get a temperature check on how people are feeling about their communities and their key concerns for the year ahead. The Index will be used by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and enhance learnings gleaned from the thousands of projects and groups it funds each year*.
Nearly half (48%) think community spirit will be better in the long-run following the pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 crisis has put a greater emphasis on health, with over a quarter (29%) of the 602 people in the South West asked, saying they intend to be healthier in future. The experiences of the last year have also made people want to be more neighbourly (26%), kinder (18%) and more environmentally friendly (23%).
People in the region are also optimistic that changes in behaviour brought about by the pandemic will be widespread. Nearly half (48%) think community spirit will be better in the long-run following the pandemic – just 12% say it will be worse – while many agree that the pandemic will have a positive impact on the amount people care about others (49%) and the environment (35%).
In the last challenging year, being part of a community gave people a reassuring sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ (43%). They could see real benefits to being part of a community, including having people close by to help (43%), a sense of connection with others (37%) and a reduced sense of isolation (31%).
Another of the biggest benefits of all was being able to give others support (37%), which confirms that helping others or volunteering brings its own rewards. For more key findings, please see the full research report.
Sarah Elliot, 49, has lived in rural Somerset, on her own, for several years. After working in London as a town planner for two decades, she decided to move to Ham, a tiny village of just 38 houses. A beautiful village, but one that’s prone to road flooding in the winter months, Sarah was soon involved in the Village Flood Resilience Project. Along with her fellow members, she set up a WhatsApp group as a way of better communicating during emergency situations.
When COVID-19 hit, the group chat became a lifeline for the whole village. “We were able to organise really quickly, splitting up the village into small groups and helping out those who were shielding, key workers or those doing home-schooling in that area. Whether they needed someone to nip to the Cash and Carry or someone to pick up their medication, there was always a neighbour willing to help out.”
A naturally independent person, and a born organiser, Sarah is an enthusiastic community member and has attended webinars run by National Lottery Funded project Community Prepared to pick up ideas as to how to better coordinate her community. But the thing that surprised her most about the pandemic, was the outpouring of kindness she witnessed in her community, and to her, herself. “You might be the most independent, self-sufficient woman you know, but it’s still so appreciated having someone check in with you…. That incidental, everyday chit chat has made me feel really quite looked after by the community which is really lovely.”
She went on: “The pandemic has made people think of themselves as custodians of the village as a whole… I can’t see that stopping overnight.”
“Usually we all live such busy lives, it’s rare we have time to really help each other out. I think this will continue well after the pandemic ends.”
Julian Hubbuck is a councillor and Flood Warden for the Parish Council in Puddletown, Dorset. Previously an outdoors events manager, he has become increasingly involved in his community over the years particularly in their flood resilience efforts, attending webinars put on by Community Prepared to pick up ideas as to how to better coordinate his community. But, when the pandemic put a stop to all large gatherings, the small rural community became his main focus.
He said: “When something like this happens, it brings people together. The local vicar, Sarah, had so many offers of help a large part of my job was managing volunteers. We had people shopping for others, picking up prescriptions and managing socially distanced queues for the local shop.”
He went on: “I have planned for emergency scenarios before, but I never thought we’d have to deal with something like this. One positive to take way from it is the outpouring of kindness we saw. Usually we all live such busy lives, it’s rare we have time to really help each other out. I think this will continue well after the pandemic ends.”
National Lottery players raise £30 million a week for good causes. For more information on The National Lottery Community Fund and the funding available to support communities visit https://www.tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/funding/covid-19