In a publication to be launched later this month, the new Institute for Community Studies will show what was occupying the minds of people across the United Kingdom when thinking about the future of the communities in which they live and work.
We understand that Covid-19 is already changing and will profoundly change the experience of community and life in every local place in the UK. This research gives us a detailed account of the state of community on the brink of the Corona crisis through the voices of communities themselves: its cohesiveness, resilience or vulnerabilities, strengths and challenges. In advance of that publication, we wanted to set out two of our key findings - to build our understanding of the possible long-term consequences for our communities, which may be forever changed through Coronavirus.
1. We were already feeling unsafe as a population
After engaging with over 3,000 people across the United Kingdom we know that safety ranked as a number one concern across the United Kingdom. Concerns about safety were highest in London (23%) and the South East (18%) and lowest in Scotland (8%) and the South West (11%). Questions about safety were raised by 38% of responders in our nationally representative survey. Whilst safety was ranked as a number one issue for communities, it was ranked as 8 th in importance by the experts who responded to the study.
Concerns for safety often focused on crime; and the sense of it being worse locally was compounded by the awareness of larger scale safety issues, such as terrorism. Beneath this immediate feeling were deeper concerns about social security which seem to make people more open to feeling unsafe; and questions of responsibility: how could communities work together with authorities to improve the feeling of safety and long term security in local neighbourhoods? But we’re in a wholly different category of fear now. There’s no ‘baddie’ to rail against, despite what Trump was trying to message recently in describing Corona as a “foreign virus”.
If we were to re-run our research again today, feelings of fear and being unsafe would probably be off the chart relative to what we uncovered late last year. Not just in relation to catching Covid-19 but in terms of the uncertainty and actualities of loss of income, caring for sick or elderly relatives, fear of dying, dealing with kids being off school for weeks (perhaps months) on end, knowing when or how to get to the shop just as the deliveries come in; losing your job, being evicted; the list goes on and on.
It’s difficult to make predictions about the impacts of Covid-19; but a global recession is on its way, if not here already. That will have profound consequences for the long-term outlook for people and this will not – as in so many other crises – be felt equally across our population. But that question of how we can, even in such times of crisis, help each other in small ways to feel more secure, safe and supported - as we face the uncertainty and fear of this virus, would still ring true.
2. We were looking for a deeper sense of community…
Our research to understand what matters to communities across the UK asked three open ended questions, and captured all responses, stories and perspectives in full. ‘Rebuilding our communities’ was the sixth most important, unprompted issue agreed upon by people in the UK; with a consistent questioning about how we can better support those who are most vulnerable in our neighbourhoods. That we now find ourselves in a time when the most vulnerable are in even greater need; means that this motivation to support, connect and seek to depend more on others is being unleashed; paradoxically at a time of acute isolation for most. But how long is that sustainable?
Because by far the loudest call in our research were consistent fears that the onus for taking care has been shifted unfairly and unsustainably in recent years onto people.
The level of need to support other people will go through the roof at some point in April, when the virus peaks; way beyond what is currently being managed on a daily basis. Whether the government and existing agencies can gear up to cope with the complexity of a country in paralysis and partial lock-down is not a given. Whatever happens, people will need each other more – and people (as much as agencies and charities) are going to need to step up to the challenge.
For those who are consistently talking about community power, control and agency, we have some challenges on our hands. There is no doubt that there are certain challenges that can be better solved by community-led activities; no doubt that there is an appetite for people to take ownership of assets in their community; and no doubt that some of the social determinants of many challenges we face can find their answer through collaboration and partnership with local people. Communities when they act inclusively together can be incredible sites of innovation and resourcefulness. But we have to acknowledge that this particular ‘community paradigm’ has its limits, and brings with it, its own set of unique, and more complex issues. Extended periods of isolation, closure of schools and loss of work is already sending people into more informal spaces and places, and into a more informal economy. The shadow side of relying on increased community activity to maintain provision of childcare, particularly, should be realised, anticipated and immediate financial relief and guidelines issued to those who are affected.
Over the coming weeks, the ICS will be sharing its people-powered research agenda in full – and publishing a series of blogs on specific community related issues. We welcome guest blogs and videos from anyone across the country who has something to say about what they’re experiencing right now - and how their community life is evolving.