Pictured: Closer to Communities team members (left to right) Suzanne Wood, Nicola Muir, Tony Beekman, Gordon Baxter and Sarah Stow.
Lockdown transformed how we all live our lives. It also changed how the Council interacts with communities. In those first few months, barriers that once stopped progress were torn down as teams worked in partnership with local people to ensure support was given to those most in need.
Driving a significant part of our initial response was the team behind our Council of the Future Closer to Communities project, now called Closer to Communities with Community Choices.
Set up to offer support, learning and development opportunities to communities to help address issues important to them, the project had found it hard to gain traction before COVID-19 … then everything changed.
Mark Meechan, one of the project leads, reflects on the past eight months. He said:
“Our project adapted well to COVID-19. In some ways the pandemic was the catalyst we needed to move things forward. Before lockdown there were many barriers, including a lack of trust and flexibility and, crucially, a lack of appreciation of the expertise that communities hold. These hurdles were literally overcome overnight as everyone became an equal partner in dealing with the crisis.
“Partners, including community groups, quickly agreeing shared goals and roles, using everyone’s knowledge and expertise to identify existing avenues and new ways to reach those in need. There was a real harmony to how we worked. Not everything went well. People became exhausted and there were disagreements, but we all worked together to find solutions in a respectful, honest, transparent, positive and constructive way.
“COVID-19 has been devastating, but it has also helped build trust and respect. We are now using what we learned during lockdown to develop a new way of working across all the projects sitting within the Council’s new Communities priority. This will ensure community voices are not only heard but used to steer us in a new direction. It will also help us create and enable more partnership working and build on the good work undertaken since March. If we don’t, the social capital gained will be greatly diminished.”
Pictured: Team members (left to right) Derek Lenathen, Lisa McCallum and Karen Hunter picking up food aid from the Asda Depot, Bankside, during the initial COVID-19 lockdown.