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We should capture the Blitz spirit felt during the pandemic to build more connected communities for the future

We should capture the Blitz spirit felt during the pandemic to build more connected communities for the future
4 min read

In March 2020, as Covid-19 took hold, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “When this is over, and it will be over, we want to look back at this moment and remember the many small acts of kindness done by us and to us.”

The surge in volunteering was one of the positives to have come out of the pandemic. I saw this first-hand in my constituency of Darlington, as people from across the community formed Darlington Support to help out; backed by local businesses and charities. We were far from unique: more than 12 million people across the UK offered their time to support their neighbours and community during the pandemic.

The benefits were not only felt by the people they were helping – these efforts brought communities together. Some 4.6 million of those volunteers were volunteering for the first time during the pandemic and this changed the profile of the “typical volunteer”, with many coming from younger and more diverse backgrounds. That created new connections, aiding integration by breaking down barriers between people who might not otherwise meet.

There is a real risk that these precious gains could be lost as work and social patterns return to normal. People going back to work from furlough, or heading back to the office after working from home, will have less time for local volunteering. That Blitz spirit could now evaporate if we do not work to maintain it.

Increasing social connection should be one of the benchmarks by which we measure the success [of levelling up]

That is worrying to the members of the APPG on Social Integration. It should also be worrying to anyone who remembers those moments of community spirit that helped us get through the pretty bleak winter in 2020, or who supports efforts to build an integrated, one nation society.

The collective response to Covid gives us strong foundations to build on – and we must seize the opportunity now to do so. The challenge now for policy-makers and civic society, at all levels, is to capture that sense of community, institutionalise it in policy and build upon the strengthened ties and integration that our communities have developed through the pandemic.

The APPG’s new report, “Building stronger communities in post-pandemic Britain”, draws on evidence submitted to our inquiry into the role that business and the voluntary sector played in improving social integration during the pandemic.

It asks what lessons we can learn from these responses to the Covid crisis, and what policy solutions would help to improve social integration. Its recommendations complement the work of my colleagues Danny Kruger MP and Miriam Cates MP with the New Social Covenant.

Chief among them is a call on government, business and civil society to seize this opportunity to transform volunteering – and in doing so help to build more cohesive, connected communities.

A three-pronged approach would involve the government setting up a UK-wide online volunteering platform, linking potential volunteers with organisations that need them; a new promotional pack, encouraging volunteering, sent to all school-leavers, new retirees and new British citizens; and a “volunteering passport” that records people’s activity, enables easy movement between volunteering opportunities and which could even be linked to incentives.

Business should also be encouraged to play its part, building on the fantastic work done by companies big and small to support their employees and the customers and communities that they serve as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility, including initiatives such as Employer Supported Volunteering.

As we head towards a more normal business environment, this may require some incentivisation, such as tax breaks for smaller businesses that encourage employee volunteering. It could also include a requirement that larger companies engage with their local communities as part of a planning application for new facilities.

The new levelling up agenda presents opportunities to build stronger and more resilient communities if we ensure that investment is in social as well as physical infrastructure. Increasing social connection should be one of the benchmarks by which we measure its success – such as revitalising high streets and other shared spaces in a way that encourages people to meet and socialise. 

The way our society responded to the pandemic demonstrated an instinct to connect with and look after each other that should make us all proud. We should now look to capture the positives of the last 18 months, to continue building more connected and integrated communities for the future.

 

Peter Gibson is the Conservative MP for Darlington and chair of the APPG on Social Integration.

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Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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