• OPA UK

Lessons from a Global Pandemic: our local communities are sources of belonging and support

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

This unprecedented pandemic has radically altered our modes of living. In this series, we explore what Covid-19 has taught us about fundamental elements of society, from local communities to the media to mental health. By reflecting on these themes, we hope to consider ways of reimagining our communities moving forwards.

While the issue of international cooperation has received much attention as nations scramble to contain the spread of coronavirus and find a vaccine, it is local communities that have arisen to support the immediate needs of countless people.

Since the pandemic hit our country, many of us (though not all, particularly key workers) have been either working from home during lockdown, on furlough, or, sadly, are out of work. Whatever the reason, we have had to spend more of our time, physically, in our homes within our local communities. As a result, despite the pandemic being global, our sights have been focused on our immediate surroundings: the local sphere.

The pandemic has particularly affected the elderly, the vulnerable and those from BAME communities. It is in response to this that communities have organised ways to look after their most vulnerable members. This has included the flourishing of spontaneously organised and locally based mutual aid groups, neighbours organising shopping for elderly members, faith groups providing meals for their neighbourhoods, and countless instances of individuals organising zoom calls or socially distant visits to those who are isolated.

Given this resurgence of activity at the local level during lockdown, and as we begin to ease out of quarantine, it is timely reflect upon the way we structure our society. This period provides a unique opportunity to make significant changes to the way we go about our collective lives, a space that has been neglected.

The local community has long been recognised as an impoverished aspect of British life . One reason for this has been identified as our working patterns. The average Briton spends an hour of their time commuting every day to work. This has a clear connection to the quality of social interactions within a local community. Given how little time we tend to spend within our local communities, interacting with and assisting one another, it is no wonder that we have been experiencing what Mark Easton, Home Affairs correspondent of the BBC, describes as a Loneliness Epidemic. Additionally, the housing economy has created conditions in which 62% of privately rented households live for less than three years in one place and only 4% live in the same residence for over twenty years.

It is in the local sphere that we can see the tangible results of our actions on the lives of others

Despite the turbulence and turnover that our local communities have experienced, it is within this arena that the vast majority of us can have a meaningful impact. It is in the local sphere that we can see the tangible results of our actions on the lives of others, or upon the environment in which we live. It has not been the high-level campaigns that have provided the primary source of support to the most vulnerable during this pandemic. Rather, it is the myriad instances of communities coming together to set up food banks, the impromptu initiatives delivering food and necessities to those who are unable to gather themselves, and the local support groups checking in on and lending a sympathetic ear to isolated individuals.

In addition to empowering people to make effective change, a local community can become a powerful source of identity and provide a sense of belonging. It is not just that an individual can see tangible results of their efforts within a community, but also that a local community provides the most effective environment in which individuals themselves, can grow and develop into effective agents of social progress. The local environment can never be replaced by social media, or anything else.

It is clear that change is needed globally and nationally if we are to realise a world in which everybody can flourish, and the injustice and inequality that affects so many are to be eradicated.

The question, then, is how can each one of us contribute towards this process? Perhaps the arena in which our endeavours are most meaningful is the neighbourhood. When countless numbers of individuals begin working together to constructively better their neighbourhoods, surely the whole world will change. As lockdown is eased and we gradually begin to go back to “normal”, let us not forget the kindness, compassion and contribution of our neighbours and local communities. Rather, let us harness the energies of this moment and channel them towards fostering communities that are vibrant, mutually supportive, and empowering for each and every individual in them.

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