How can communities shift the balance, post-Covid?

Community after Covid - How do we shift the balance?

Ailbhe McNabola

Head of Research and Policy, Power to Change

“Community power works”

So goes the assertive first line of a new report by New Local, supported by Power to Change, Carnegie UK Trust and Barrow Cadbury Trust, published today. There’s much to agree with in that statement, but it covers a multitude of questions that we wanted to explore in this study.

Community power works: we agree. But for how long? In what context? With what support? And what does it do, that other kinds of power can’t do, or can’t do as well? Why does it matter and – assuming we agree that it does – how can we sustain and grow it?

Community and Covid… Community after Covid?

Communities sprang into action when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the New Local study finds that those public service organisations that responded best to the first lockdown were those that followed the lead of their local communities and enabled, rather than inhibited, their activities.

But we can’t keep going at this rate forever – we are already wondering what happens when the short-term crisis becomes a long-term situation, a ‘new normal’ to use an already overused phrase. How can communities sustain the levels of helping, neighbourliness, and social action seen during the early stages of the pandemic? What kind of more stable, day-to-day community resources and capacity do we want to see emerging from the pandemic?

Is there really “no going back”?

Many community businesses that we support and know well told us, early on, of the transformation of local relationships, with councils and communities working together to meet immediate needs. Bureaucracy, risk assessments and old barriers fell away, and a new, more equal relationship seemed to emerge in many places. We were interested in finding out the extent to which this was happening across the UK, and how it could be sustained for the longer term.

Today’s report takes lessons from the experiences of councils and community organisations in seven places, and highlights how to avoid going back to the competitive, risk-averse practices of old.

It details how organisations in places adapted, innovated and collaborated to take advantage of the moment – both building on existing relationships and strong local networks, and developing wholly new ways of doing things.

Needless to say, we are not out of the woods yet, and it still feels difficult to think about ‘after Covid’ and to find the time and space to reflect on what learning we can take from this time. New Local’s report captures the experiences and reflections of people working on the ground and in councils in a range of places in the UK, distilling for us some of the key lessons that we can come back to when we feel closer to the “new normal” that we’ve all been talking about for almost a year. This is certainly not the last word on this topic, but a great start.

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