Local people have had to improvise during the pandemic. Could their solutions stick? | John Harris

Local people have had to improvise during the pandemic. Could their solutions stick? | John Harris

About eight months ago, a fascinating social change began to ripple through hundreds of British neighbourhoods. Given the deluge of news that has happened since, it is easy to forget how remarkable it all seemed: droves of volunteers who were gripped by community spirit coming together to help deliver food and medicines to their vulnerable neighbours, check on the welfare of people experiencing poverty and loneliness, and much more besides. From a diverse range of places all over the country, the same essential message came through: the state was either absent or unreliable, so people were having to do things for themselves.

A couple of tantalising questions were triggered by all this. Would at least some of the energy and creativity that had been unleashed be sustained beyond the pandemic? And if that happened, might any of the people involved shift their attention to politics? Unfortunately, before any answers started to become clear, the end of the first lockdown saw many local efforts apparently being wound down or fizzling out.

Look closer, though, and it’s clear that in plenty of places, the basic structures of self-help have remained in place. And, in some areas, what seems to have kept the early lockdown spirit intact is the fact that on-the-ground work has been based around town and parish councils that were once barely visible; these are now run by energised community activists who have used recent localism laws to push their work way beyond such staple responsibilities as parks and bus shelters.…

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