COVID-19 and communities listening project: A shared response
This 2020 Carnegie UK Trust report outlines findings from a ‘Covid and Communities’ project into community responses to the Covid-19 pandemic across UK towns, villages, and cities. Based on over 80 conversations with communities and local organisations across 16 areas of the UK, it provides insights into effective partnerships - of use to local authorities, place managers, and businesses who wish to strengthen their networks and partnership working.
The Carnegie UK Trust’s 'Covid and Communities Project', running April - September 2020, aimed to learn more about how communities and public services were initially responding to the crisis, how that might have changed over summer 2020, and what it can teach us about strengthening partnerships and community wellbeing. Based on over 80 reflective conversations with communities and local organisations across 16 areas of the UK, it provides insights into effective partnerships, with case study examples provided throughout.
The project finds the key needs of communities, and the individuals that comprise them, changed over the course of the pandemic, from a focus on basic necessities such as access to food and health at the beginning of the first lockdown, moving, over time, to a greater recognition of issues around social isolation and digital exclusion.
Findings also reveal several key impacts of the pandemic on place, including that people have been staying closer to home, fuelling a rediscovery of local places and enhanced local pride in place. This has, in turn, generated more community engagement around improving local areas, such as organised litter picking. However, the pandemic has also brought insecurity to places, in particular to community hubs, such as libraries, community centres, and arts venues, due to closures, lost income, and feelings of distance from local communities.
A number of key community responses to the pandemic were made evident in the project, which saw enhanced kindness and partnership working to respond to challenges and overcome physical separation. We saw a rise in hyperlocal responses, as local communities came together and formed things like mutual aid groups and local WhatsApp groups. Local authorities reconfigured their services as the crisis hit, forming things like crisis hotlines, community hubs, and organising track and trace systems. The voluntary, community and social enterprise sector saw a swell in volunteers, moving from initial volunteer work around food provision to supporting people’s mental health through things like befriending services.
Overall, the pandemic saw enhanced partnership working across teams and organisations. However, it is unclear how long this will last, since, as the pandemic continued, rising frustrations, fatigue, and a greater awareness of social inequalities, have become apparent.
The report concludes by outlining the key hopes and fears expressed by participants, including a more local future, future partnership working, and more community power (hopes), alongside future pandemic spikes, balancing crisis responses and everyday services, sustaining funding, and losing the feelings of togetherness developed during the crisis (fears).