Just over a month ago, Locality published our We were built for this report. This research looked at the way community organisations have been helping us through the coronavirus crisis, and what this means for our recovery.
It uncovered an inspiring story of communities coming together to deal with the fallout from the pandemic, with new local partnerships emerging at pace. Community organisations have been adapting services and creating new ones: from running foodbanks and delivering emergency supplies, to moving their existing face-to-face services online. Many have been working closely with local government and health services, new and existing local partners, mutual aid groups and volunteers, to support their communities through this crisis.
At the same time, we heard about the way centralised systems – from the NHS volunteer responder scheme to track and trace systems – have hampered the local response.
In the month since the report’s publication, lots has changed. The Prime Minister has asked Danny Kruger MP to look at how we can we empower and strengthen communities for the long term. There have been more major economic interventions from government, including schemes to create jobs for young people, and big cuts to VAT in the hospitality in tourism sectors.
Alongside the ever-changing landscape of coronavirus rules, regulations, and interventions, we may be seeing a bigger shift in the way our societies operate.
One of our member organisations in Birmingham recently described this as the ‘revival of the 15-minute neighbourhood’. Indeed, people have been spending lots more time one square mile from their home, in their local communities. Of course, we’ll be encouraging people to make use of the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme with our members in August, many of which provide cafes and restaurants on site.
Putting community front and centre of our recovery
We will also continue to make the case that this period needs to lead to radical overhaul of the way we have previously done things. The limits of centralisation have been one of the predominant stories of the crisis. This needs to be a turning point.
With huge economic challenges on the horizon, the government needs to support a community-powered economy recovery, recognising the role community organisations play in supporting people furthest from labour market back into work, and in building local economic resilience. This would mean putting communities in charge of local economic development funding and investing in things like community ownership.
Putting land and buildings in community hands strengthens independent and long-term community resources and power. Community ownership provides places an opportunity to develop affordable housing, revitalise our high streets and create hubs of local economic activity. So, we’re calling on government to expand the Community Ownership Fund (announced in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto) in scope, ambition and size. This fund would help save important local community spaces that will come under threat during the coming recession and ensure they are put to productive economic use through community business.
The challenges we face – social, economic, and environmental – are huge. Communities and community organisations have shown themselves to be up to the task during this crisis. We need to trust them to lead the recovery. In short, we need to turn community spirit into community power.
By: Nick Plumb Policy Officer at Locality, the national network supporting local community organisations to be strong and successful.