Further empower communities to tackle COVID-19 pandemic, says Carnegie UK Trust

November 30, 2020

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Communities need more support to respond effectively to future stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report published by the Carnegie UK Trust.

Over six months of the pandemic, the Carnegie UK Trust had over 80 conversations with people from 16 communities across the UK, focussing on how organisations and communities were adapting to meet the changing needs of the people around them, and the evolving relationships between the public sector, the voluntary community and social enterprise sector, and communities.

The report analyses the needs of communities throughout the UK during the emergency phase of the pandemic, including support with food, decreasing household income, mental health, and digital access; the impact of the pandemic on places; the community responses; and the role of volunteers and the local voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. The Trust also looks to the future, to new waves of the virus and future emergencies, and outlines the hopes and opportunities for future ways of working and how communities can be further empowered to respond.

The Trust found:

  • At the onset of the pandemic, it was communities who first stepped up to offer the vulnerable and isolated essential support.
  • Communities were flexible in the support they offered, to a wide range of people and their individual needs.
  • Working in partnership, the local council and community were able to meet people’s needs more effectively than offering stand-alone support.
  • The response to the emergency showed the need for more local support and services, including staff skilled to support communities, flexible sources of funding, and recognising the value of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector.
  • Local authorities should learn from both the needs of communities and responses unveiled during the pandemic.

Launching the report, Sarah Davidson, Chief Executive of the Carnegie UK Trust, said:

‘In the emergency phase of the pandemic, communities across the UK did a remarkable job of providing support to the most vulnerable in our society with kindness and dignity, and at speed. Decision makers must now learn from what support people needed early on in the crisis, and what their neighbours and wider members of the community needed from the local council and its partners in order to protect the vulnerable and isolated during this time.

‘The people we spoke to reported a huge surge of energy and a genuine sense of fulfilment at being able to support others in their communities, but as the pandemic progressed, we heard about ‘change fatigue’ – a tiredness from dealing with constant flux and uncertainty. With further waves of the pandemic and the winter months ahead, we must also help the helpers, with skilled staff and adequately funded services designed to support the most vulnerable members of our communities.

‘Our research shows the importance to our wellbeing of being empowered to make decisions and take action on issues that affect our lives. At a time of high anxiety and pressure, this is more important than ever. However, communities must be supported to lead the way, by removing barriers, working in partnership, and giving them permission to take control.’

Steve Wyler, Co-convenor of a Better Way, added:

‘As this important report sets out so clearly, the pandemic has shone a light on both capabilities and inequalities in our society, much of which existed long before the crisis. We have long underestimated the ability of people to come together in their communities, to look out for each other, and to organise effectively and at pace when necessary. We have also long neglected the deep divisions that have blighted so many lives.

‘As this report describes, it is possible to work with people in difficulty with real dignity, and it is possible to build a truly collaborative way of working. But we can’t take any of that for granted – if we want to see these things persist, we will all need to operate in a different way from now on’.