Published 1st July 2020

Locally Rooted: The place of community organising in times of crisis

It is widely acknowledged that neighbours have played an essential role in supporting their local communities through the COVID-19 crisis. Often this support has bubbled up spontaneously from below.

The response of community organising groups

Practical help

Often community organising groups have been first responders, because they know their communities and are already connected and trusted there. They have organised food deliveries, collected medications, made ‘checking in’ calls to ensure people are not isolated.

Gathering and providing information

Listening and reach – making sure that everyone’s voices are heard – are at the heart of the community organising process. Often community organising groups are the “Go To” organisation – both for local people wanting information and local agencies who want to extend their reach.

Promoting collaboration

Organisers have supported other local agencies to ensure that responses are co-ordinated, identifying duplication and providing peer support and sometimes mediating between different approaches.

Connecting people

The connections and trust that community organisers have built up over the years – within their neighbourhoods but also across neighbourhoods and with local organisations – have been essential in responding to COVID-19. Organisers have adapted to online working and in so doing have extended their reach. Their local knowledge also ensures that they reach those who are digitally excluded, using arts for example and improving access to technology.

Changing policy and practice

Communities cannot always resolve issues of local concern on their own. To address these, organisers have worked with local people to identify where the power lies, who they need to influence and how to make their case.

The pressures on poorer communities are likely to increase as the country goes into recession. And there is a danger that the community energies and relationships formed during the lockdown will dissipate as people go back to work or struggle to survive. Organisers expect mental health to be a major issue.
Marilyn Taylor and Mandy Wilson (2020)

Coming out of lockdown

But there are opportunities too. The number of people involved in organising has increased significantly and communities are better connected, perhaps more willing to share their concerns. New relationships have been forged at an organisational level and the reputation of organising has been enhanced in many areas. People at community and organisational level are asking for training in community organising to help them better connect with their local communities. Organisers are planning new listening campaigns to find out about the longer-term impact of the pandemic, facilitating the difficult conversations needed to address ongoing sources of community tension and working with other local organisations to learn the lessons of the crisis response. Many see an opportunity – even the necessity – for community organising to channel the pent-up frustrations and anger of lockdown and beyond into positive directions.

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