The lesson of the last 10 weeks

By Claire Kober | 02 June 2020

As a fully signed up member of the optimists’ club, I’m always on the lookout for silver linings emerging from the extraordinary times we’re living in. My mental list is stacked full of small, life-enhancing pluses that a slower pace of life enables – eating together as a family, bike rides, baking more...

Very welcome though they are, these silver-linings extend beyond the small and personal. Our air is cleaner, our streets more liveable and [generally-speaking] people more considerate. Truth is you don’t have to look very far beyond your own front door to see the tsunami of social capital washing around our neighbourhoods. Whole careers in the sector have been spent trying to fathom how to increase social capital in communities, the lesson of the last 10 weeks is that an unprecedented national crisis has a huge catalytic effect.

The question is, how do we bag this social capital and prevent it from ebbing away when the crisis is over? Thousands have volunteered, helped support shielded households and joined street or neighbourhood groups. How do we use that in the long term to tackle loneliness and social isolation, increase community resilience and help people feel better connected?

It is the role of councils to create the conditions for a new wave of community activism to flourish, and recognise that what might be needed is to continue to invest in some structures and support – nothing that‘s over-engineered – which allow for this combination of big picture and hyper-local engagement to continue.

This could be as simple as providing local communities with toolkits of ideas and how to go about realising them. A how-to guide to setting up a Play Street, connecting people to local foodbanks and encouraging fundraising, making it easy for streets to ‘adopt a plot’ of land in the vicinity for community garden, establishing ‘friends of parks’ groups – all initiatives councils have championed but with new audiences to share them with.

Increasing social capital in the long-term could be a positive legacy of the crisis and councils are surely the bodies to enable it.

Claire Kober is managing director, homes, at Pinnacle Group and former chair of London Councils

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