New essay puts the community-level response to COVID-19 in context of previous national crises – from the plague to the great flood – and highlights the need for community to also be at the heart of our plan for national recovery as we emerge from lockdown.

Read the essay

A new essay written by social historian Steve Wyler, shows that the ways communities respond to crises – past and present – shapes how society rebuilds itself in the aftermath, and that putting communities at the heart of that rebuilding can change social structures for the better.

The essay is titled ‘Community Responses to Crisis: Glimpses into the past, present and future’.

“Community-based organisations were often the first to respond to the challenge of COVID-19 in local areas. The lesson of history is that this extraordinary community activity of the last six weeks needs to also to be at the heart of plans for the future” said Matt Leach, chief executive of Local Trust, which commissioned the essay.

“As the Prime Minister sets out his plans for exiting lockdown, this timely essay celebrates community spirit as the defining feature of our initial national response to COVID-19 and invites policy-makers to place strong local communities at the heart of their vision for a new, more resilient nation.”

Amidst a surge in community activism and volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic, Steve’s essay highlights some of the most compelling examples of community action, unearthing stories from the suburbs of York to a housing estate beneath Spaghetti Junction.

Drawing parallels with how communities responded to similarly devastating crises throughout history – during the plague, bread riots and Spanish flu – the essay explores how the past can help us better understand what is happening now and what this might mean for the future.

Steve argues that if we can fully acknowledge the importance of community responses to the COVID-19 crisis, then we should be looking ahead to build this understanding into our future.

Speaking about his essay Steve said: “In times of crisis, and in more normal times, it is surely unwise to hope and expect that informal community responses will simply arise of their own accord. If we really want to harness this energy, we need to understand better what the necessary conditions are for a shared sense of community to emerge, for self-organisation to flourish and for all residents to benefit.”

Steve Wyler is an independent consultant, researcher and writer in the social sector. He also co-convenes A Better Way, a network of leaders who want to improve services and build strong communities. From 2000 to 2014, he was CEO of Locality, a national network of community organisations dedicated to community enterprise, community ownership and social change.