Collaborating During COVID: A Round Up Of Our 2020 Outputs

December 21, 2020

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After an extraordinary year, we outline some of the Trust’s key outputs of 2020 and reflect on our hopes for wellbeing in 2021.

When the UK went into lockdown in Spring 2020, the Trust’s team considered how we might usefully contribute to and learn from the experiences of our project partners, stakeholders, and communities we had previously worked with prior to the pandemic. Much of our research highlighted that the pandemic was exacerbating issues of inequality already present before it began.

The impact on digital exclusion

  • ‘12 steps to eliminate digital exclusion’ explored how lockdown exposed the extent and impact of digital exclusion on inequalities across the UK. It was rooted in the knowledge that the lived effects of digital exclusion were worsened by COVID-19. The 12 steps call for ambitious action from policy makers, practitioners, academics and industry, from committing to digital inclusion strategies that are co-produced with those who have lived experience of digital exclusion, to aligning with anti-poverty efforts.

The impact on services for people

  • COVID-19 and Communities Listening Project: A Shared Response explored how organisations and communities adapted to meet the needs of the people around them during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Making space for reflection and open, honest dialgoue, the report described the evolving relationships between the public sector, the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, and communities, and outlined hopes and opportunities for embedding partnership working that makes our public services work better for more people.
  • To explore this further, we published a series of case studies that looked at how public services and volunteers were working in community hubs, alongside an extended study of how North Ayrshire Council has embedded kindness in its work before and during the emergency. This work shared the activities, achievements and learning about what it takes to embed kindness across a local authority area and finished with five priorities that we hope will feel relevant and urgent for local government and its partner organisations everywhere.
  • ‘Making a Difference: Libraries, lockdown and looking ahead’ revealed that public library services across the UK had a positive impact on the wellbeing of those who engaged with them over lockdown, and that there was a significant overlap between the skills of local authority COVID-19 response hubs required and those of public library staff. Yet staff and service providers could have delivered more were it not for various barriers. Overcoming these barriers are key to enabling public library services to unleash their potential, and to support individuals and communities to navigate the impact of the pandemic.
  • The courage to be kind reflected on the role of kindness in the healthcare response to COVID-19. At the start of 2020 there was a gathering momentum to conversations about the role of kindness and compassion in health and social care in Scotland; yet

there are many tensions and challenges to building a culture that allows room for kindness. The report outlined a series of reflective conversations with medics working in different parts of NHS Scotland. The conversations reflected on what can be achieved when united by a common purpose, and when work is underpinned by relationships and collaboration.

The impact on employment and financial security

  • ‘Good work for wellbeing in the coronavirus economy’ examined the impact of the crisis on job quality. Research with labour market experts including academics, business and trade union representatives and leading think tanks, and analysis of the impacts of the crisis on different groups of workers. The report put forward over 30 recommendations for the labour market could seek to balance the twin goals of sustaining employment and improving job quality, to ensure work improves wellbeing for many more people.
  • As a companion piece to the Good Work research, ‘Race inequality in the workforce’ explores the impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minorities, in terms of both loss of employment and poorer quality work during the economic downturn. The report indicated that ethnic minorities were put at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and were allocated more risky roles than their white colleagues – but were unable to speak out about their experience. The report made 11 recommendations for government and employers to ensure both that job quality is protected for all and that groups at particular risk are safeguarded.
  • ‘Fear and Loaning’ explored the affordable credit sector’s (credit unions and community development finance institutions) role in helping low-income communities and households cope during 2020. Based on the results from a rapid response survey, it highlighted a decline in the number of people seeking loans; a reduction in the size of loans being sought; a rise in the number of customers seeking payment holidays on their loans; and an increase in saving deposits across England, Scotland and Wales. It argues that the affordable credit sector must be supported to sustain and scale up its support in the coming months.

Thinking for the future

  • The COVID-19 crisis has affected all dimensions of our lives and reminded us about what is required to live a good life. The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a shift in many places, with the immediate responses from public services and from communities demonstrating that there is a different way of working together. We articulated seven guiding principles for recovery that public services should take as they move into recovery mode. We believe that these steps could ‘bank’ positive changes in relationships and accelerate progress towards a more enabling state.
  • As society embarks on the process of recovery from the pandemic, there is a collective responsibility to use what we have learned not just to repair the immediate damage, but to also consider how to make our economic, social and democratic structures fit for the future. In Building Back for the Better: A perspective from CUKT we utilised our history of research, policy and practice development on wellbeing to set out six propositions for the recovery.
  • The Trust believes that collaborative dialogue can contribute to COVID-19 responses, recovery and reform. We have therefore been delighted to partner with the Institute of Welsh Affairs on their Rethinking Wales programme of events. A similar but smaller scale programme of events was begun in Scotland in 2020 and Rethinking Northern Ireland will be launched early in 2021.
  • Towards the end of the year, we published Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe) which offers a holistic alternative to GDP as a measure of social progress, and which we believe could be used as a mechanism for making these trade-offs between different domains of wellbeing. We need to shift thinking amongst all kinds of decision-makers, and place national wellbeing at the centre of the post pandemic recovery plan. GDWe offers the alternative measure to facilitate this shift in thinking, and start a new narrative on social progress as wellbeing.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Many of our existing projects (like wellbeing in Northern Ireland, Understanding Welsh Places and Engaging Libraries) continued in the new context. For more information on our programmes please visit our website or join the debate on twitter by tagging @carnegieuktrust.