This Next Lockdown Doesn't Have To Be A Slog

To accept that the months ahead will be hopeless condemns us to the present, writes Max Newton.

It’s hard not to feel heavy right now. With a second national lockdown confirmed and winter sweeping in, the end of 2020 is not the brighter future we imagined in spring.

Rising Covid cases, the return of restrictions and fears about jobs and industries mean the light at the end of the tunnel feels increasingly dimmed. For many, it might feel like it doesn’t exist at all.

It’s an especially difficult time for those who were already struggling before the pandemic.

When disaster strikes, it’s the most vulnerable who are hit the hardest. Covid-19 has heartbreakingly illustrated the deep chasms of inequality in the UK and the lack of protection given to many groups and communities.

It has shown the precariousness of people’s positions and demonstrated how easy it is to lose the things you need. Millions have been pushed to a place they’d never thought they’d get to. Millions are wondering how they’ll make it through a second lockdown, which is already feeling tougher than the one we experienced before.

“Community spirit didn’t begin with coronavirus, but the pandemic has strikingly shown how effective – and vital – joint action is in a crisis.”

When faced with pain and desperation at such a scale, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and without hope. But to accept that the months ahead will be hopeless condemns us to the present.

This lockdown doesn’t have to be harder than it was in the spring. What’s essential is that we leverage the vast power we have within our reach: community.

Much has been made of the importance of community but the strength that comes from acting together should never be underestimated.

Community spirit can sound like an empty buzzword but we’ve been shown, amazingly, what this looks like in practice and how it’s a lifeline to vulnerable people in times of crisis.

Within days of the first lockdown being announced, local mutual aid groups were springing up, notes were slipped through neighbours’ letterboxes and food and medical supplies turned up at people’s doors.

When the NHS launched its volunteer responder programme, it met its recruitment target three times over.

As weeks turned into months, we’ve seen community spirit expressed in powerful, unique and creative ways. Individuals have come together to launch new initiatives, like the team of volunteer chefs in Edinburgh who started Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts, to turn surplus food into free, healthy meals for those who need them. Or the organisers of new food banks, like Square Mile Food Bank, who are helping individuals and families who don’t have the money to survive.

Or the many community hardship funds created so people could withstand the virus’s crushing financial blow. We saw a huge increase in people contacting the Shelter Helpline, and one of our colleagues – who was stuck in Pakistan – continued to play his part by taking calls via his laptop from the roof of his hotel.

“It’s about recognising that we are all reliant upon one another and that hope is found in the moments of connection.”

Of course, community spirit didn’t begin with coronavirus, but the pandemic has strikingly shown how effective – and vital – joint action is in a crisis.

The challenge we now have is continuing to work as a community as the days get shorter, winter sets in and we learn to cope with another lockdown. Fatigue and frustration are being felt across the UK but we can’t afford to sink into forgetfulness.

As the pandemic stretches on, the need for help only grows as more and more people are pushed to their limits. Job losses, slashed incomes and restricted opportunities mean that, for many, this winter will be very bitter. The power of community is needed more than ever; and it could have a huge impact.

The past eight months have shown us what’s possible and the incredible difference even small deeds can make. We can use the spring and summer as a blueprint of hope for this winter lockdown, to inspire the action needed to protect the most vulnerable in society.

We understand that community spirit can take many different forms and we know that every moment of compassion is deeply valued. We’ve started to see how we’ll get to a brighter future. We need to come together to ensure that we do.

If you’re looking for ways to expand or begin your community action, you’re spoiled for choice this winter. Many organisations, such as AgeUK, run schemes where you can volunteer to be a phone friend for people who are isolated – giving just half an hour of your time to check in with someone, and help reduce the loneliness that’s especially difficult to deal with right now.

Community kitchens and food banks also need extra pairs of hands (The Trussell Trust is a nationwide network of food banks, and local council websites are a great place to find other specific organisations). The NHS is once again looking for volunteer responders to help protect at-risk people as we face a second wave.

But smaller actions are also important. Donating money to charities and outreach projects, where you are able, is an expression of community solidarity and enables these organisations to reach people who are desperately struggling. Keeping in touch with neighbours and acquaintances – and letting them know that they’re not to feel they’re burdening you by asking for help – will reassure them that there are people to turn to, despite lockdown, insecurity and fear.

And there’s something extremely powerful about coming together to publicly and visibly express support for others: sending a message that marginalised people’s lives do have value, that they are a crucial part of society, and that you care.

One of the ways we’re doing that at Shelter is by organising the UK’s biggest carol concert on December 3rd. It’s a completely free, virtual concert, streamed from St Martin-in-the-Fields, that lets people hear from those who have experienced homelessness and stand in solidarity with families facing one of the worst situations imaginable at this time.

At a time when we’re forced to stand apart, we mustn’t forget that we’re still able to stand together. But acting as a community is more than simply helping others get the resources they need. It’s about acknowledging there’s no shame in struggling and that it’s not a personal failing to have less.

It’s about recognising that we are all reliant upon one another and that hope is found in the moments of connection. This was true last year, this year, and it will be true forever.

Max Newton is head of community fundraising at Shelter.

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