Susan Smith says the lessons learnt from working together through Covid will help ensure the community and voluntary sector is at the heart of the new normal
Have you seen Russell T Davies’ It’s a Sin? For me, it has been one of the highlights of this winter lockdown, but I’m not sure it’s helped my mental health. The heartfelt rendering of the Aids epidemic in the 1980s is enlightening and emotional, and just a little too close to life with Covid-19.
The key difference – the production wrapped in January 2020 so it wasn’t trying to make a comparison – is that 1980s Aids was a disease which discriminated. Meanwhile, the common enemy of Covid-19 has brought society together in extraordinary ways. From the global collaboration to create vaccines at record speed to cooperation between public, private and voluntary groups in communities, we have seen some of the best of humanity.
As I have watched how Scotland’s voluntary sector has responded to Covid-19, I have been heartened by the way people have come together and trusted each other. I recently spoke to Fiona Murphy, director of Spire View Housing Association, who in spring last year found herself meeting her local councillor and MP every morning in Morrisons to pick up donated food and goods to be distributed within their north Glasgow community.
The Royston Community Response Group is just one of many across the country where housing associations, charities, local football clubs, social enterprises, shops and businesses all worked together to ensure everyone was safe. Royston was supported by the National Lottery Community Fund and the Scottish Government’s Supporting Communities and Community Recovery funds. “Funding has never been easier to get” said a grateful Fiona.
What can we learn from this? A recent event exploring cross-sector working as part of the emergency response to Covid-19 suggested that in some areas collaboration went brilliantly and in others it wasn’t so smooth. Volunteers played a central role and working together helped ensure more people were reached and there was less duplication of effort, but how does that translate to the everyday needs of ordinary people in ordinary times?
For communities to really thrive during the recovery phase of Covid, local people and community groups need more respect, more consultation, better and longer funding, they need to be trusted and empowered, their staff should be paid more. Does this sound familiar? It makes me wonder whether the optimistic euphoria I’m seeing in some parts of the voluntary sector is akin to one of the characters in It’s a Sin affirming with complete conviction he will beat Aids when as a viewer you know he can’t possibly.
To be fair, many of us have found our moods as changeable as lockdown restrictions this year, so it’s not surprising that a TV drama could tip me into pessimism when there’s nothing else to do and the snow is falling. Fortunately, the vaccine rollout and the reopening of nurseries and schools gives me hope of a return to some sort of normality in the not too distant future.
When, in 40 years time, a TV drama is made about the Covid pandemic, it will be emotional but I believe it will view this period in history as a catalyst for positive change. It has given us the opportunity to see what we value about our lives such as our communities and environments, and what we don’t, such as commuting and the nine till five office drudgery
Over the next few weeks and months, the community and voluntary sector will continue to be Never More Needed. Continuing to work together to develop the relationships that have been formed or strengthened during Covid will make it more likely that the our sector will be at the heart of the new normal – and that's the future I want to see.
Susan Smith is SCVO's campaigns manager. Visit www.scvo.org.uk/NeverMoreNeeded to find out how you can get involved in the Never More Needed campaign.