Community Building before and since Covid-19

We were all set to launch our Community Building Guide in March of 2020 but Covid-19 put that on hold. We share this guide with you now, with one caveat: in the wake of the pandemic we will all need to rethink some of the tools in our Community Building toolkit, certainly in the short-term.

When Covid-19 hit, the world changed. What followed was an urgency to connect and come together in many of our communities in Gloucestershire. Volunteering and neighbourliness hit an all-time high as many of us stepped in to help.

Yet despite this ‘epidemic of kindness’, there have also been huge challenges. At Barnwood Trust the negative impact Covid-19 has had on many disabled people and people with mental health challenges, has become all too clear in the Trust’s report findings ‘Our Changing World: A Report into Disability and Mental Health in Gloucestershire during the Pandemic’.

This is also seen in the national picture where we have seen the effects of lockdown having a disproportionate impact on disabled people and people with mental health challenges. This is often compounded too by, for example, the additional impacts on women and on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups. Loneliness has also increased significantly.

All this makes Community Building more relevant now than ever. Informal community relationships have become more visible than at any time previously; more of us can see the importance of building welcoming, inclusive communities. So, how can we build on this and ensure that going forward everyone can be a part of their community – and that ‘everyone’ includes disabled people and people with mental health challenges?

Barnwood’s Community Building Guide is rooted in an Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach to community building. It doesn’t have all the answers, but it does bring together some of the ideas and principles that are essential to building long-term sustainable communities.  

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We hope the guide will build on interest, experience and passion for your community – whether starting out or developing practice.  It is full of ideas, techniques and tools that have come from the experiences of people at the forefront of building more belonging in our communities over many years.  Covid-19 means that, while the asset-based approach is ever more relevant, we will all need to rethink some of the tools included in the guide, certainly in the short-term.

It can be read cover to cover or dipped into, to find a technique or tool that works for you. Many of the activities can be adapted for use in these times, including for online connections, for example.

As a team of Community Building Guides at Barnwood Trust, we have many outstanding questions: How can people in community meet safely? How can connections be made if some residents are still shielding? How can we communicate when people are hidden behind masks, especially for people who rely on lip reading? And, how can we capture stories of community life during Covid-19?

As the coming months unfold, we hope to understand the issues better ourselves. And, as we evolve our approach to creating inclusive and welcoming neighbourhoods in the wake of this pandemic, hopefully we can lean on, and learn from the experiences of one another.

We would welcome a conversation with anyone working in community at this time and we would love to hear what works in this guide and how we can improve it. So, please do get in touch with any comments.

Finally, for me personally, the ABCD way of viewing communities has been life changing, and life changing for some of the communities I’ve worked alongside. I know ABCD has the power to change people and communities. This guide should perhaps carry a health warning that it may well be life changing for you too.

If you would like to get in touch with the team of Community Building Guides at Barnwood Trust, please email Lead Community Building Guide, Philip Booth at Philip.booth@barnwoodtrust.org