What I’d keep after Covid

August 4, 2021  

For many in local government, the Covid-19 pandemic has been defined not only by huge hardship and challenges, but also by renewed purpose, new partnerships and rediscovered passion for their work. As society takes steps towards ‘normality’, we ask members of our network what they’d hold onto in a post-Covid future.

 “Compassion and neighbourliness”

Sarah Richardson, Head of Strategy – Surrey County Council

Sarah Richardson

Covid-19 has put a spotlight on people doing amazing things within communities, the voluntary, community and faith sector and across public services.

It has brought focus to what it means to be part of a community and how volunteering to help those around you can be as simple as picking up some shopping for a neighbour or checking in on someone who might be feeling lonely. 

It’s that community spirit that we’ve heard about so much, where neighbours came together to meet the basic needs of those around them.

The pandemic has also brought into the spotlight the strong and widespread compassion in local government, with many staff across Surrey (and across the country) working long hours outside of their day job to call shielding residents to check in on them.

The permission the pandemic gave for those not normally in touch with residents to phone and check their needs were met, sometimes just having a chat with those who were lonely or scared. It was a reminder that we’re all part of one big community coming together to keep each other safe and well.

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, I want to hold on to this and remember the reasons I was drawn to public service. Wouldn’t it be great if we could foster the kind of relationship with residents that doesn’t need a pandemic to give us permission to check in on how they’re doing.

“A universal, dignified response to homelessness”  

Rob Thomas, Managing Director – Vale of Glamorgan Council

Rob Thomas

Where to start? The way all in our organisation have worked beyond traditional silos to work better than ever at a time of crisis? That our strategic partnerships have never been stronger? The way that many of our schools now lead the battle against food poverty?

But in selecting one single item, I want to focus on the way that Wales has responded to the homelessness crisis.

As a nation we made a commitment that all those without shelter would be housed. Funding was committed and everyone without accommodation, whatever their circumstances, was supported throughout the pandemic and that support continues.

We cannot and should not go back to the situation that existed pre-Covid. If we can provide shelter for people at the height of a pandemic, surely that support can and should continue. The challenge is how we deliver.

Temporary bungalows

In Barry 11 temporary bungalows to help people take their first step towards a home have recently welcomed their first tenants. Funded centrally, delivered and managed locally, these high-quality, eco-friendly bungalows use small-decked areas to create a community.

They give residents their own lounge, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Most importantly they give those living in the most precarious of circumstances something priceless: dignity.

In so many ways I hope this is the first such example of how we can continue to meet the crisis head on. We need more of the same and we are already on the case in the Vale of Glamorgan!

“Creativity, resilience and ripping up the rule book”

Joanna Ruffle, Strategic Director – Southend Borough Council

Joanna Ruffle

Not good to start with a deficit I know; but the one thing I would like to lose post-pandemic is the word ‘unprecedented’!

It may have had currency in the first few months of 2020 but over a year later we must accept that these are the times in which we now live and work, and if we have not adapted by now, then we need to – pretty smartish!

So, turning to a more strength-based approach what would I keep?

  • The collective creative ability, capacity and collaboration of our workforce, our communities and our partners.
  • Ripping up the ‘rules’, boundaries and power dynamics that get in the way of positive outcomes.
  • Our resilience and adaptability.
  • Our rediscovery of our true humanity: our realisation of what really matters and our ability to show real care for each other.

Some may ask (and I regularly do) why it has taken a global disaster for us to learn what ought to have been intellectually (some might say blindingly) obvious.  But sadly, it is often only in the face of adversity that we flourish, grow and evolve.

History will, I hope, describe the 2020’s as a decade when the world shifted and we moved to an inclusive, unselfish global society; where all voices, however quiet and humble, were heard; when we stopped operating around our difference; and when we started to lead with our hearts as well as our heads in order to improve lives for this and future generations.

Now that would be unprecedented!

“The huge sense of community”

Paul Simpson, Chief Executive – Derby City Council

We all know that the impact of lockdown on our daily lives has been profound. The things we took for granted became memories to cherish. Yet despite this, it has yielded benefits:

  • Better work life balance for many
  • A reduction in traffic and the associated environmental benefits
  • A renewed appreciation of green space

We shouldn’t forget the sense of public service pride embodied by our NHS colleagues and the vast numbers of front line and support staff in local government, who have worked tirelessly to ensure the majority of services that people rely on, have continued to function. That is something I also hope isn’t something that is soon forgotten.

For me though, the overriding benefit and one which I want to harness and build on is the enhanced sense of both community and partnership working.

Local people, partners, businesses and communities have come together in so many ways, to support those most in need, and to help our city, its economy and its people, to build back better for the future.

By continuing to work together for our city, we can achieve far more than we ever could on our own. That is something worth holding onto.

“The intense collaboration”

Tim Woolmer, Strategic Relationships Adviser – Kent County Council

Tim Woolmer

Covid-19 brought Kent’s local government family and our wider local public sector partners even closer together.

The urgency with which we have all had to respond to protect our vulnerable residents, provide food and support through community hubs, work with the voluntary sector to establish new community-support mechanisms, distribute funding, communicate advice and guidance, set up new processes, pathways, helplines and websites was unprecedented, and only possible through intense collaboration.

Whilst we would of course have never wished for a pandemic, a consequence has been to focus minds beyond individual service responsibilities, working practices and organisational boundaries to collectively just get stuck in and respond as one, close any gaps in provision and catch those at risk of falling through the net.

As we hopefully start to recover into a new normal, the challenge will be to sustain those new working practices, relationships and expanded networks.

“The power of a shared vision”

James Lee, Director of Communities, Partnerships and Leisure – London Borough of Lewisham

I’d like to keep hold of the power of a shared vision. The knowledge that we can, whatever the challenge, achieve great things through working together in harmony.

If we focus on our shared goals rather than the day-to-day distractions that we face we can solve problems more quickly and effectively than we would ever have believed possible.

This will not always be easy but we must challenge ourselves to use our shared experiences to address future challenges. If we strive to seek out the common goal in any issue and develop a shared vision we can truly say we have taken a positive from what has been an incredibly challenging period.

Find out more about New Local’s network of members and partners, united by their appetite for innovation.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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