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Resilience and resourcefulness for building strong communities

Alongside a discussion held on 28 July looking at the relationship between resourcefulness and resilience in communities, Mandy Wilson from the Third Sector Research Centre takes a look at how we can use these terms to best understand what’s happening at a grassroots level.

How are communities responding to the COVID-19 crisis? And how will they recover as the pandemic subsides? The Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham and research partners have been exploring these questions on behalf of Local Trust. The study will follow community responses and recovery through to Spring 2021.

Much has been made in recent months of the idea of community resilience in the face of the pandemic. In the first research briefing for Local Trust we suggested that the notion of resilience fails to acknowledge how communities are located within wider power structures that largely ignore their fate.  The briefing ended with several questions, including:

  • How should we think about how different communities are responding to COVID-19?
  • Is it a case of demonstrating and building community resilience, or is it highlighting something else, such as resourcefulness, or collaborative connections with other stakeholders and public authorities?

In our second briefing, we began to further explore this idea of resourcefulness. We contended that definitions of resilience e.g. ‘a coping system of a community to survive effectively in times of stress, crisis and emergencies’ (Doron, 2005), imply a passive ‘make-do’ approach by communities of what is being thrown at them.  Resourcefulness, on the other hand, points towards a more proactive capacity to create solutions to events that disrupt our lives, as in the case of COVID-19. It enables us to understand the response of communities as an evolving process of response and recovery which is informed by the local context and meets the (often differing needs) of communities. Further, it highlights ‘both the uneven distribution of material resources and the associated inability of disadvantaged groups and communities to access the levers of social change’ (Mackinnon and Derickson, 2013).

We feel that this concept is particularly relevant in helping us to understand community responses in the 26 areas in the research study. Using the four elements of resourcefulness as identified by Mackinnon and Derickson, the research team identified how communities were:

  • bringing financial and human resources to bear e.g. time, organising skills, grass roots relationships, and broader resources coming into the community from the voluntary and public sectors
  • using skills and technical knowledge to facilitate the adoption and implementation of alternative ways of working
  • applying local or cultural knowledge to meet unmet and immediate needs and develop alternative visions for communities being even better places to live
  • promoting recognition of communities right to mobilise resources and attract and manage new resources.

It may be that distinguishing between resilience and resourcefulness is an esoteric or semantic discussion. However, understanding the language used may help us to recognise the part that communities can play in their own destinies and their power to act and encourage greater respect as partners by policy makers.

Watch the full discussion: