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Insights, reflections and first-hand accounts from community volunteers at the frontline of the pandemic are gathered in a new report which urges government to ensure essential neighbourhood-level investment continues and extends to more places. 

‘A year of the pandemic: Reflections from communities on the front line’ published today by funder Local Trust, draws on conversations and research with 150 communities across England.

The voices of nine volunteers and workers – Anna, Pippa, Sue, Jenny, Paul, Shaun, PaulSarah, and Kat– speak out from Plymouth, London, Birmingham, York, Whitley Bay, Keighley, Boston and Staffordshire. They relay the hopes and fears, fatigue and passion, challenges and triumphs that characterise the experiences of many others who stepped forward to support their neighbours.

“COVID-19 has potentially changed our community forever, but – if we get this right – it will be for the better.”

Anna Hunter, worker with community group Tang Hall Big Local, York

They share real concern about what will happen nextsaying that key local organisations and community spaces will not survive without proper funding and support. These are places that relied on income from room hire and fundraisers, which have come to a halt because of the pandemic – yet they have been crucial in providing a point for volunteers to organise local support during the pandemic.

“If we hadn’t been there, it would have been strangers dropping in a parcel and then leaving. That would feed somebody, but it would not have made them feel connected.”

Paul Wright, volunteer at Firs and Bromford Big Local, north east Birmingham

Additionally, the report reveals how communities with access to resources and social infrastructure of this kind have been more able to work collaboratively and respond to the multiple obstacles that they faced. In those places without these assets, the situation was different and the challenge more severe. 

Everyone featured in the report is part of a national community-led funding programme called Big Local. The programme, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, gives 150 communities across the country £1.15m each, with almost no strings attached, to create long-lasting change in their neighbourhoods over 10 to 15 years.  

“We already had an existing plan [before the pandemic] focused on making the community more cohesive, supporting older people and tackling loneliness.”

Jenny Chigwende, volunteer at W12 Big Local in White City, London

Local Trust is part of an alliance of almost 400 organisations, which includes charities and funders as well as 30 combined and local authorities, that is calling on the government to create a Community Wealth Fund. The Fund would provide long-term, hyper-local, resident-led investment in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods to allow them to build resilience, confidence and capacity and protect local spaces long into the future. 

“The 150 communities we work with have shown incredible strength and resilience during the pandemic, showing the value of longterm investment in building the capacity and confidence of local people to take the lead in making a difference in their own neighbourhoods” said Local Trust’s chief executive, Matt Leach.  

“However, many in those communities are concerned about what comes next, and the challenge of sustaining what have been incredible levels of energy and commitment through what might be a long and challenging recovery.  At the same time, we know many ‘left behind’ communities have been hit even harder by the pandemic, with fewer mutual aid groups and lower levels of funding to help support local activity by residents; these places are at real risk of being further left behind if they do not receive targeted long-term investment through the proposed Community Wealth Fund, to support residents to rebuild local social infrastructure and increase the resilience of their communities for the future.” 

Read their stories