The Mayo family always looks for silver linings. It is not a great tendency, because at times, we just avoid hard truths, swerving away in the hope that something positive might emerge. But it is an ingrained habit.
So naturally I was pleased to see this finding from a new Demos report from its Renew Normal Commission on Life After COVID:
“On every issue we researched, from finance to friendships, healthcare to hunger – some people’s lives got better, and others got worse. But on average: things got worse. On almost every topic more people said life had got harder, with only two exceptions: connection to community, and connection to family. While mutual aid groups were established in streets and estates across the country, and community organisations mobilised to look after millions of vulnerable people, it is clear that community organising was not a universal experience. And yet, where it did happen, it was one of the few sources of hope and optimism in an extraordinary year.”
These connections to community and family translate into a practical, personal sense of well-being. Around three million people who had nobody at all before to turn to for help, now feel that they do.
The Demos research did not, as far as I know, ask about our connection to nature – that would have been interesting too. But, again positively, green space did top their poll of issues that have become more important as a result of the pandemic
I am told that whenever crisis, war or disaster has hit over the last century, around three or four out of five people volunteer to help. It is who we are. Polling from King’s College back in April 2020 found that 60% of people had offered help to others, while 47% had received help from others.
A connection to community, of whatever form that takes, is the bedrock of social action and improvement. So is this something on which we can now build?
With my friend and colleague Pat Conaty, I worked with Tony Gibson on the Teviot Estate in East London twenty years ago and with him, we developed an early training course on community economic development. It was called Nutshell – one of Tony’s acronyms, which stood for ‘neighbourhood use of time, space, homes and environment for livelihood and leisure’. Rather than start with money (the conventional economic or philanthropic route), Tony guided us to start by matching local resources to local needs. Nutshell was the potential for great oaks in every tiny acorn, as if every seed has a dream.
Although there are programmes of work today on high streets and on the needs of market towns and coastal towns, the community component is an afterthought, at least in England.
One exception is the ten-year pilot programme, Big Local. In Plymouth, the Big Local community work over COVID has taken on a dreamer’s objective, that people know everyone’s names in their streets.
In the West End of Morecambe, Lancashire, their goal in this year of the virus is for the neighbourhood to smell better.
Can we feel some slivers of hope emerging from all of this COVID