Lessons learnt from a year of lockdowns

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.”

A river with  a gauge measuring the depth of the water

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

Spontaneous volunteering during the Pandemic

Back in June last year I wrote a blog for Communities Prepared about my research into volunteers in disasters after being awarded a Churchill Fellowship.  My report has since been published in September and can be found here.

I have now been commissioned to undertake further research into the work of spontaneous volunteer groups across the United Kingdom by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust as part of their Covid-19 Action Fund which provides grants for Churchill Fellows to run projects combatting the effects of Covid-19 in all areas of society. 

The UK government definition categorises spontaneous volunteers as “individuals who are unaffiliated with existing official response organisations, yet, without extensive prep planning are motivated to provide unpaid support to the response and /or recovery to emergencies.”

Through disasters such as the Grenfell Tower Fire and many flooding incidents over the last decade, groups have been formed in the community by concerned individuals who want to help others in need. Through the pandemic, thousands of spontaneous volunteers have come forward to support their communities, forming Mutual Aid and COVID-19 support groups.

Often, they have faced barriers and issues that have prevented them working as effectively as they could. New Local’s report Communities vs. Coronavirus: The Rise of Mutual Aid examines some of these challenges, including “how best to structure themselves” and “managing their relationships with local government.”

In examples where the authorities work with volunteer groups, the combination of effort maximises the benefits to those in need.

My research and experience working with these spontaneous volunteer groups in Eastleigh, Hampshire (where I am the Resilience Manager), have demonstrated the impact of a joint effort. In examples where the authorities work with volunteer groups, the combination of effort maximises the benefits to those in need.

Here we worked with three spontaneous volunteer groups, which were formed in direct response to the pandemic. They have acted as the delivery arm of our local response centre, providing help and support to both those Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people who were shielding, and also to those who were having to self-isolate due to catching the virus or being a close contact. We have hundreds of volunteers doing shopping, collecting prescriptions, dog walking, befriending over the phone and doing regular checks on those in need of support. It has been and continues to be a fantastic effort by many members of the local community.

I am therefore calling to all spontaneous volunteer groups in the UK to ask for their help by completing a simple survey on behalf of their local group. This survey looks at how the groups were formed, their role and the work they have undertaken, how they are led, their interactions with the statutory authorities and considerations for their future post COVID-19.

I am conducing this survey through my work with Eastleigh Borough Council which ensures therefore that all data will be kept securely and used appropriately during the course of the research.

You can find the survey here on my blog: https://disastervolunteers.home.blog/

Alternatively, please email Melvin.hartley@eastleigh.gov.uk and I can send you a copy.

Melvin Hartley
Melvin Hartley is Safety & Resilience manager at Eastleigh Borough Council and Community Resilience lead for Hampshire and IOW Local Resilience Forum. Following a career with Bedfordshire Police and in community safety, he was part of the London Borough of Southwark’s management team for the 2012 Olympics response. 

Working together to prepare for the future

Quote from Andrew Turner, Emergency Officer: "Everything we have established through COVID-19 needs to be maintained so that we have a package ready should it be needed again."

As Michael Adamson, Chief Executive of British Red Cross highlighted in the third webinar from The Emergency Planning Society, “it’s local people who respond first.” It’s our primary goal at Communities Prepared to ensure Community Emergency Volunteers are empowered with the knowledge and confidence to prepare for, and respond to a range of emergencies and we are delighted that we can now deliver our free tailored training to groups via webinar. To support you in identifying your community’s next steps on its resilience journey, we’re holding 30-minute free telephone advice sessions, tailored to your community’s priorities. Topics for discussion might include, but are not limited to:

• Developing your Community Emergency Plan

• Training and skills – identifying any knowledge gaps and developing a tailored training plan

• Volunteer management, with a focus on spontaneous volunteers post crisis response

• Communications

Sessions will be run by Paul Robertson and Imogen Smith from the Communities Prepared team. Paul has over 5 years’ experience in setting up and running his own Community Emergency Volunteer group, while Imogen brings her expertise in marketing, communications and fundraising.

On July 14th, the Environment Agency launched its new Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) Strategy, setting out a range of measures to prepare and protect millions of homes and businesses from the impact of climate change. As the global temperature rises and weather patterns become more extreme, we must prepare for more frequent and severe weather-related emergencies and focus on the ongoing task of building both personal and community resilience.

COVID-19 has demanded more from us as individuals and communities than we ever thought possible. While we begin to process and grieve for what has happened collectively and individually, we must recognise the importance of volunteering and apply this spirit of collaboration, communication and kindness to everything we doing moving forwards. As was highlighted during the first Communities Prepared Crisis Recovery webinar, “we must not waste a good crisis.” Now is the time to rest, reflect and regroup so that we can better prepare for future unknowns.

Coming up

Unable to make our earlier webinars? Never fear! Due to popular demand we are repeating our Crisis Recovery webinar on July 29th. We are delighted to be joined again by Charlotte Eisenhart, Head of Member Services at National Association of Local Councils, who will be presenting on the structure of crisis recovery. Thank you to NALC who have supported us with the development of this webinar. Other topics explored on the webinar include: the recovery timeline, building a community narrative and putting back better.

Quote from National Association of Local Councils: "This webinar is a must-have for parish and town councils supporting their communities through crisis and recovery."

From floods to pandemics: adapting to COVID-19

Andrew Turner is the Emergency Officer for Sixpenny Handley and Pentridge Parish Council in Dorset, whose role until COVID-19 largely covered groundwater flooding. Here, he discusses how he and his team of community volunteers adapted to the impact of COVID-19.

Can you explain some of the steps you took to adapt to COVID-19?

I started to review our Community Emergency Plan in February 2020 as more COVID 19 outbreaks were occurring. At this point, I had planned out the workings of our Flu Friends support group but had no community volunteers. In early March I put posters up around the village with my contact details asking for volunteers. Within a week I had 18 and by the time the lockdown occurred I had over 80. I divided the Parish into areas based on the number of houses and allocated a team to each with a Leader and Deputy. I also established a Phone Buddy team, made up of people in the community with appropriate skills or those who wanted to be involved but couldn’t as they had to self-isolate.

We sent letters to residents, explaining how to order food from our local shops and arranging for prescriptions to be collected. This was issued along with a newsletter explaining what we were doing and helping keep people informed. We’ve kept the newsletters going and each one has had a different angle, including good news stories and reminders about key safety aspects.

Everything we have established through COVID-19 needs to be maintained so that we have a package ready should it be needed again.

How did you find the process of adapting?

It was very quick to get the group up and running because I had done the groundwork with the plan and received a lot of community volunteers willing to support those having to isolate. Our Dorset Councillor was and is very supportive and I have a call each week with the Parish Council to keep them up to date. However, making decisions in the beginning, based on what I felt was the right thing to do, was very difficult; no county wide communication loop had been established and I did feel very isolated as a result.

Within the team I have maintained weekly calls with the Team Leads, Phone Buddies and Reserve volunteers. This ensures we have a chain of command and consistent messaging as well as the ability to feed back. I gather stats from each team every week and collate these to establish how much ‘work’ we are undertaking. Initially, this was to know whether any team was overloaded, and is broken down in terms of shopping, prescriptions and phone calls. As we gathered data, I have been able to build a profile and can now see we have a steady volume of trips and calls that is sustainable within the team.

How did you use social media and other communication tools during the crisis response?

I set up a Facebook page and a group in the NextDoor app to push information out – either updates on our group’s activities or output from the GOV.UK daily update. This information also gets uploaded onto our community website, so those not using Facebook or NextDoor can still access it. I have also set up a free Microsoft Teams area where all our documents are stored.

I used the Communities Prepared website for information and guidance in setting the support team up and continue to check back for other resources to utilise.

Have there been any key learnings from this experience that you’ll take forward?

Everything we have established through COVID-19 needs to be maintained so that we have a package ready should it be needed again. I made use of Communities Prepared training/briefing packs to ensure we were covering the right scope at a realistic level and to inform community volunteers joining the team. Engagement within the community has been key to the success of the plan and so we need to ensure we maintain this going forward. We need to work with Dorset Council to ensure we are better integrated.

Will you maintain engagement with the new volunteers you’ve acquired through the pandemic? If so, how do you see them playing a role in future emergencies?

Yes, when we’re able to meet, I want to workshop the whole experience to gather everyone’s thoughts and ensure we track what we did but also what could have been done better. With this information I will update the Pandemic Flu plan for future use. I also want to keep everyone registered so that I can contact them periodically and look at how we can extend other areas of our overall emergency plan if needed.

What stage is your community at now? Are you looking at crisis recovery?

We are continuing our support model and expect to align this with the overall Government recommendations.

Andrew Turner sitting with his dog

As lockdown restrictions ease, communities will be starting to look at ways to rebuild and strengthen. Our free upcoming webinar takes a practical look at how community volunteer groups & Town & Parish Councils can assist with crisis recovery. Book here.

Examining the role of volunteers in disasters across the USA and Europe

‘Travel to learn, return to inspire.’ This is the instruction the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust gives each year to 150 exceptional people from across the UK who are awarded a Churchill Fellowship.

Little did I realise when I was awarded a 2019 Churchill Fellowship, I would be putting into practice my learning within a week of returning from my travels. Back in 2017 whilst studying for my PG Certificate in Emergency Planning, I learnt about the Fellowships – ‘a unique programme of overseas research grants. These support UK citizens from all parts of society to travel the world in search of innovative solutions for today’s most pressing problems’ (Winston Churchill Memorial Trust website).

My interest in volunteers during times of crisis was sharpened by the tragic events of Grenfell Tower where hundreds of spontaneous volunteers from across the UK offered their help. The situation was chaotic, lacked coordination, resources were wasted, and no one appeared to be in control. Research showed other countries had tried and tested plans and so my project theme was set.

The 6-month process involves an initial application, detailed proposals, shortlisting and interview. In 2019, 1800 applications were received, and a 150 Fellowships awarded. Fellowships cover 8 different categories of universal themes in society. My Fellowship award was for travel to USA & Europe investigating the management of volunteers, especially spontaneous volunteers, at disasters.

My interest in volunteers during times of crisis was sharpened by the tragic events of Grenfell Tower where hundreds of spontaneous volunteers from across the UK offered their help.

September 2019:  I visited 5 states and met over 25 different organisations. In Georgia, Hurricane Dorian arrived after devastating the Bahamas, the coastal region was evacuated, volunteers staffed Red Cross Emergency Centre as they responded to the thousands of people in need. Spontaneous volunteers were directed to jobs on the ground, packing food and essential supplies, making deliveries or helping with the clean up. It was great to meet these volunteers many of whom used their annual leave to help.

Red Cross volunteers sat working in the Red Cross Operation Centre in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States.
Red Cross Operation Centre, Atlanta

The Community Emergency Response Team is an 8-week programme, training volunteers to respond to disasters in their community. Speaking with volunteers starting out, and those who have subsequently responded to help, I found they were inspiring individuals who shared their experiences and knowledge. In California, volunteers helped with the wildfires that caused such devastation, wiping out hundreds of homes. I met the volunteer leaders who filled 2000 volunteer jobs in 10 days.

In my borough, hundreds of spontaneous volunteers have joined together through Facebook, churches, parishes and community groups to help. Using the learning, we have been able to coordinate their efforts to provide an accessible service of support to residents.

February 2020: I visited the German Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance, speaking at a conference on managing spontaneous volunteers. I undertook academic research with 3 universities, learning from those who have examined incidents identifying best practice. I finished with visits to the World Port of Rotterdam, Amsterdam security region and the Red Cross, who showcased their excellent Ready2Help programme.

Returning home in early March, I became engulfed in the COVID-19 crisis, both with my own Council and as lead for the Local Resilience Forum. I have helped engage the voluntary sector. We have volunteers all over Hampshire helping those in need, delivering food parcels, fetching much needed medicines and providing emotional support for those who are at high risk and self-isolating. In my borough, hundreds of spontaneous volunteers have joined together through Facebook, churches, parishes and community groups to help. Using the learning, we have been able to coordinate their efforts to provide an accessible service of support to residents.

A Churchill Fellowship is a once in a lifetime opportunity and continues beyond the trip itself. It has been an incredible experience meeting so many wonderful and inspiring people. The annual Fellowships are open to any UK citizen over 18.

For more detail please see Melvin’s blog.

Melvin Hartley dressed in a high-vis jacket

Bio: Melvin Hartley is Safety & Resilience manager at Eastleigh Borough Council and Community Resilience lead for Hampshire and IOW Local Resilience Forum. Following a career with Bedfordshire Police and in community safety, he was part of the London Borough of Southwark’s management team for the 2012 Olympics response. 

He lives with his partner in his home city of Portsmouth and is a trustee of Pompey in the Community, the charitable arm of Portsmouth FC.

Interested in reading more about volunteering? Read our Q&A with Calum, aged 25, who started volunteering with the Bradford on Avon Town Council Community Emergency Volunteers (CEVs) in February.

Celebrating community emergency volunteers

To celebrate Volunteers’ Week 2020, we chatted to Calum, aged 25, who started volunteering with the Bradford on Avon Town Council Community Emergency Volunteers (CEVs) in February. Paul Robertson, who heads up our training and development for the Communities Prepared programme, is the group’s senior coordinator.

This interview with Calum took place before the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown. The group has since been on duty for over 10 weeks, providing deliveries to the vulnerable and self-isolating in the community around the clock. A further 10 volunteers have joined the team during the pandemic, including many younger members of the community who have been either furloughed, home working, or back from university.

What motivated you to sign up as a community emergency volunteer?

I had always had in mind that I would get involved in volunteering at some point in my life, but I think there’s a danger as a young person with university and employment pressures to think, “I’ll get myself set up first, then I’ll do it.”’ Even though I’m currently in a bit of a transitional phase, I felt that I was perfectly capable of giving up the odd evening and/or weekend to volunteer.

To my shame, I thought it might contain a bit of a busy-body element, but the reality is far from that and is quite admirable.

Can you tell us a bit about your role and how you support the community?

I was hesitant at first about the idea of a local community support group. To my shame, I thought it might contain a bit of a busy-body element, but the reality is far from that and is quite admirable.

We operate, to a certain degree, as a voluntary extension of a variety of public services, helping with some of the lower level tasks. For example, during the flooding, we helped the Environment Agency monitor water levels as well as the flood barrier. I’ve yet to be involved in such activities but I believed they’ve also supported the NHS in getting doctors to their area of operations during poor weather and helped the local authority transport department. With the group training and equipment we receive, you really get a sense you’re part of a professional outfit.

How do you fit the role in around your professional and social life?

It hasn’t taken up much time so far, but on the occasions that I’ve had a late evening or given up an odd day at the weekend, I just try to remember the many other people across the country who find time to volunteer with far busier schedules than me. 

Do I feel a sense of appreciation towards people who volunteer? Yes. Is there anything stopping me from doing something like that myself? No. I just want to feel like I’m contributing.

What do you get out of volunteering with the group? Why is it important to you?

For me fundamentally, it comes down to two questions: do I feel a sense of appreciation towards people who volunteer? Yes. Is there anything stopping me from doing something like that myself? No. I just want to feel like I’m contributing.

How do you see climate change affecting your role as a volunteer moving forwards?

Climate change played a part in my thinking when considering volunteering. I think a lot of people have a sense that we might be in stall for more frequent adverse weather conditions. As such, I think the training around the community response to these situations will get more of an impetus, even though it’s quite developed already for things like flooding and snow conditions. 

What would you say to encourage more young people to get involved in their local community emergency volunteer group?

Once you’ve done the odd thing with a voluntary group, be it an hour a week or a weekend a month, it tends to fit quite comfortably into your day-to-day life. I’d emphasise to younger people to just join the first meeting to find out more information and get an idea of what’s involved. And although this shouldn’t be the principal motivation, most employers love to see voluntary commitments on a CV. 

A note from senior coordinator, Paul, on the impact of COVID-19 on the group and how they’ve adapted during this challenging time:

Despite previously having trained with Wiltshire Council on public health emergencies, nothing prepared us for the intensity of work over the last 2 months. So far we have undertaken over 200 individual tasks from shopping and medication deliveries in partnership with the town’s spontaneous volunteer neighbourhood ‘street champion’ network, as well as putting up information posters around town on behalf of the Town Council and assisting with furniture deliveries for a homeless charity whose client was moving into an unfurnished flat.

Whatever the task, our volunteers have brought a friendly smile and in some cases, home-picked flowers to spread some cheer to those self-isolating.

Calum has fitted right into our COVID-19 response and, after some online training and mentoring, has even undertaken coordinator responsibilities, managing the volunteers as they respond to requests for help across our community.

It has been a privilege to be the senior coordinator for such a committed, cheerful, and eager group of volunteers, who have lost none of their enthusiasm after 10 weeks. They, along with every other volunteer across the country, should feel rightly proud of the important work they have done.

A close-up of two volunteers in front of a car, facing away from the camera. Both volunteers are dressed in high-vis clothing and are carrying boxes.
Photo credit: Lydia Booth Photography
A volunteer helps move a bed onto the back of a 4x4 vehicle. Another volunteer can be seen in the background.
Photo credit: Lydia Booth Photography

Thank you to Calum, the Bradford on Avon Town Council Community Emergency Volunteers, Lydia Booth and to all volunteers across the country for their incredible efforts and dedication to community resilience. Thank you!

Coronavirus case studies: NALC

Local (parish and town) councils across England are galvanising their staff and volunteers to take action and look after the most vulnerable in their communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the country being in lockdown, local councils are stepping up to coordinate emergency action plans which include support groups, buddy schemes and the collecting and delivering of shopping and medication. Others have donated funds and food to their local food bank. Some are putting vulnerable and self-isolating residents in touch with businesses who are delivering food. Many are collaborating with other local councils, principal authorities and third sector organisations – to ensure a coordinated effort to help as many people as possible.

Local councils, as the first tier of local government, are closest to their communities and their coordinated efforts are a crucial contribution to the national effort to keep on top of the pandemic.

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has worked closely with the sector to gather a collection of case studies on local councils as an exemplar of the essential work that they are carrying out to help their communities during the pandemic.

Local councils, as the first tier of local government, are closest to their communities and their coordinated efforts are a crucial contribution to the national effort to keep on top of the pandemic. This show of leadership is seen through many examples, such as:

  • Cottenham Parish Council, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, organised 140 volunteers who are performing tasks such as shopping, collecting prescriptions and making friendly phone calls. Through the General Power of Competence, the council is using its website to become a pre-payment shopping system, in conjunction with the local Co-op store, to allow volunteers to multi-buy for residents. For elderly residents unable to use that system, the council is using a Monzo card which can be used by the volunteers to pay for the shopping directly.
  • Yate Town Council, Avon, is working with representatives of churches, Neighbourhood Watch groups and a Facebook group followed by 2,500 residents wishing to assist. It awarded the local food bank an emergency grant of £4,000, donated food from the closure of cafés, 750 Easter eggs and organised a virtual Easter competition. It has also given £4,500 to aid community groups and will provide activities and support to home educators.
  • Midhurst Town Council, Sussex, helped set up a volunteer group, Midhurst Angels, which is putting businesses, charitable societies, community groups and residents in touch with each other. It is coordinating the local café, the greengrocers, the butcher and other companies which have all offered to deliver food. It is also ensuring volunteers have been DBS checked and are First Aid trained.

The case studies showcase best practice and demonstrate actions that benefit not only those at high-risk and vulnerable but every resident. For more, read the full NALC Coronavirus case studies publication.

Claire Goldfinch is project officer at the National Association of Local Councils, having joined in 2019.
Established in 1947, the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) is a membership organisation and the only national body representing the interests of local (parish and town) councils. NALC works in partnership with county associations to support, promote and improve local councils.

Communities Prepared complements the work of NALC and other national organisations by providing training and support for town and parish councils looking to set up community emergency volunteer groups. For more information and to find out how we can help, please get in touch.  

COVID-19: Advice and support for community volunteers

To help support community volunteers during this challenging time, we’ve started to compile the following list of reputable resources, offering advice and support on responding to COVID-19. This is by no means an exhaustive list and we will continue to update it, so please do check back regularly. Is there anything we’ve missed that you’d like us to add? Please do get in touch with any resources you feel should be included and others in your community would benefit from.  

Check-in with the following as they update information
regularly:

Mental health and wellbeing

Business/organisations

Community

Volunteering

Regional advice and guidance

Please do let us know if you come across any additional resources offering COVID-19 advice and support.

Please note that while we will make every effort to ensure these links are accurate, up to date and relevant, Communities prepared cannot take responsibility for pages maintained by external providers. If you come across any links that no longer work or whose contact has been amended so is no longer relevant, please contact us here.

We’re keen to help ensure that those taking the initiative to support their community do so as safely and effectively as possible, and have put together some public health volunteer training resources which are available for free here.

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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