Community spirit has been a welcome silver lining as we’ve seen the increasing role neighbours have played in supporting their local communities through COVID-19. There is strong evidence showing vast improvements neighbourhood and community-centred interventions have on people’s wellbeing. Often this support has bubbled up spontaneously from below. There is, however, a danger that the community energy and relationships formed during the first lockdown will diminish as people struggle to survive yet another lockdown and further economic downfall.
To understand how the public believe communities and volunteering can be strengthened to their advantage in a post-Covid Britain, we have been carrying out a public engagement survey as part of the current phase of research for Renew Normal. We used a deliberative online tool, Polis, which allows people to vote on statements, add their own statements, and helps us to identify how different viewpoints overlap into two groups.
Here’s what we found:
Group A (247 respondents):
- Strongly opposed to increasing government funding for community-led services
- Less willing to forego work hours to volunteer
- See little importance in incorporating different ethnicities and faiths in community outreach strategies
Group B (430 respondents):
- More willing to volunteer
- Keen to incorporate different ethnicities and faiths in community outreach strategies
- Want to see increased government expenditure within communities
Despite their stark differences, both groups agreed on three key areas. First and foremost,
“It would be dangerous for essential public services to rely on volunteers.”
This was strongly supported by both groups, 81% of Group A and 87% of Group B. A recurring theme in the statements we received was how opposed people were to see essential services be taken up by volunteering. Further statements proved to bolster this view with the majority of each group disagreeing with the idea that volunteers should help to deliver essential public services, such as health and social care. There is a strong concern among both groups that relying on volunteering for essential public services will become an alternative to the government providing paid staff.
“Central Government is too remote to be able to set up mutual aid groups but it
should work to make it easier for them to merge naturally.”
There was broad support for this statement, with 70% of Group A and 82% of Group B agreeing, suggesting that there needs to be less red tape and bureaucracy involved in establishing these groups.
“They would like to see mutual aid groups set up during the pandemic to remain after the pandemic.”
Both Group A (73%) and Group B (84%) showed great support for this suggesting that mutual aid groups have been hugely beneficial to communities and their sustained efforts would be welcomed in a post-Covid Britain. This helps to provide consensus on a key policy area.
The above findings help inform three key policy areas:
- State and Charitable Provision of Services
- Local Governance and Community Organising
- Sustainable social infrastructure
But producing mandated policy is going to be difficult, to say the least. With most mutual aid groups dwindling on donations due to the lack of funding available to them, it will be difficult to sustain their services post-pandemic. The pressures on poorer communities are likely to increase as the country goes into recession. That being said, the recent Free School Meals campaign headed by renowned footballer, Marcus Rashford, has shown the world how British communities can unite to help vulnerable people through difficult times.
It isn’t too late to have your say on how communities and volunteering should be utilised going forward! Use your voice to build back a better Britain: join the conversation, and tell us your views here.