In this article, Vidhya Alakeson, Chief Executive of Power to Change discusses the findings of her report co-authored with Will Brett on local heroes and sustaining community spirit beyond Covid-19. You can find the full report here.
One of the silver linings of the current Covid-19 crisis is the extraordinary wave of social solidarity that has swept through the country. Over 750,000 signed up to help out the health services and there are nearly 3,500 local mutual aid groups registered on the Covid-19 Mutual Aid website.
There are two easy assumptions to make in the face of all this social solidarity. First, that community responses to crises happen spontaneously. People naturally step forward to help out their neighbours and as such, we can take much of what we are seeing for granted.
Second, this level of community action will continue after the crisis abates. People have experienced a different relationship to their neighbours and local community and that will continue.
We wanted to take a closer look at what was really happening behind the community spirit headlines which is why we wrote Local Heroes: How to sustain community spirit beyond Covid-19. What we found was that mutual aid – neighbours helping each other – is highly effective at street level and needs little more than Whatsapp or Facebook to make it work.
But scale up to a ward or a town and an effective community response depends on the presence of established community organisations. Their speed of response, adaptability and deep local roots have been central to ensuring people’s wellbeing and enabling the state to cope and reach people it would otherwise miss. They have been on the frontline of keeping communities fed, supported and connected to each other.
This fact holds huge implications for public policy. If the community response to the crisis has been integral to how we are coping through Covid-19 – not a nice to have but our first line of defence, we have to take the opportunity now to strengthen and empower the community infrastructure on which such a response depends.
Without doing so, we risk this wave of social solidarity being a blip – a feature just of the crisis. We have to knit it into the way our communities and local economies start to recover and rebuild.
This crisis offers us a chance to take the first steps on a journey to enable greater community power, recognising that strong communities are vital to economic and social resilience. In Local Heroes, we put forward three proposals to get us started.
The first is to create a £300m Community Heroes Fund to reward the people and organisations that have led the community fight against Covid-19 and to rebuild our social fabric as we come out of this crisis.
Second, Government should bring forward new legislation to enable community organisations to take greater responsibility for public budgets at the neighbourhood level, including budgets for managing parks, playgrounds, local sports clubs, markets, local museums, community centres and civic spaces.
Finally, we need to replicate the depth of the strategic partnership between the state and community organisations that are getting us through this crisis as we enter the recovery phase. Whether it’s town centre revival or rebuilding local employment, the expertise of locally rooted organisations who know their communities deeply must be part of the solution.
Together these three proposals are designed to ensure this moment of community power does not fade away but instead shapes the post-coronavirus social and economic settlement. Sustaining today’s community spirit holds the key to creating a stronger, fairer and more resilient society in the wake of the crisis.