Bill Graham: The world changed

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Community business leader Bill Graham reflects on the impact of COVID-19 on community business
23 Mar, 2020

Two weeks ago, we hoped the government’s budget might level up communities around the country – now our thoughts are of survival and how to adapt to a world that may have changed forever

– Bill Graham Community business leader

Community business leader Bill Graham reflects on the impact of COVID-19 on the community business sector in the first two weeks of crisis. He is a Trustee of Leeds Community Spaces and Bradford VCS Alliance. Bill also works with Modality GP Group, Power to Change and Leeds Community Foundation and is a Fellow of the RSA.

Anyone who knows me will be aware of my passion to change the world to create a fairer, more equal world. I try and make things better by giving people and communities the opportunities they deserve. My strapline on Twitter (@systemanarchist) is ‘changing the world one conversation at a time’, reflecting my belief that you need to build trust and relationships to get people to ‘buy in’ to change. An often slow but ultimately satisfying process that can embed change in a sustainable way.

But in the last couple of weeks, the world has changed around us all at a pace that we will have not experienced in our lifetimes. And every day brings more announcements and directives that force more change on us all. As we try to process the change we are confused, about schools, shopping, family, health and work. The touchstones of our lives, our routines thrown up in the air one by one, with no clear idea where they will land. We worry about our families, our friends our colleagues. We worry about our jobs and our futures, and we worry about the basics that we take for granted such as the essentials from the local shop.

I don’t know where all this will end but I have seen the best of human nature in the last few days, both at work and in the community. At work I have seen people pull together, creating contingency plans to ensure health care can be delivered even in the most trying circumstances. In some ways this has created opportunity to use digital means of communications and make the best use of some of the new initiatives in health care that had been slow to catch on – video consultations, online prescriptions, online consultations are all now in much demand!

In the community I have seen leaders emerge. People are taking the bull by the horns and mobilizing others to create a crisis response to help those most in need and vulnerable. And many want to help, volunteer and offer support where possible.

Of course, community businesses are struggling with how the future may look and whether they can survive. I was distraught to hear that community-run Bramley Baths in Leeds (one of our countries most successful community businesses) is closing for now. I hope that they, and the other 9,000 community businesses in England, can survive the crisis and access some help and support from the local authority and government. I hope the staff and trustees are all OK.

Two weeks ago our thoughts were of hope and opportunity as we awaited how this government might try and level up communities around the country and invest in people and areas left behind – now our thoughts are of survival and how to adapt to  a world that may have changed forever. We need the Government to announce a package of support that will protect our community businesses and VCS organisations – the very organisations that provide the most hope and opportunity in our most disadvantaged parts of the country. Without this, we will be without hope for a generation and the words we heard from our Prime Minister will ring hollow.

I have never experienced change like this and all I can do is urge people to remain calm and keep communicating. If we keep talking to each other and sharing our experiences I am sure we can get through this. I know our networks locally and nationally will never be as important, so use them and share information. Let’s find a way to survive together and help our communities get through this challenging time.


Read more about the support available to community businesses from Power to Change in response to COVID-19.