NEW research from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, suggests that the pandemic could be a step-change moment for the UK, leading people to make lasting changes to how they live their lives and the connections they build with friends, family and the wider community.
As the UK fast approaches the anniversary of the first lockdown, three-quarters of people (77%) say that they will change their behaviour as a result of the pandemic, with an emphasis on enjoying a simpler, more pared-back life post-COVID. Key changes include enjoying the simple pleasures in life more (40%), spending more time with friends and family (33%) and re-evaluating life priorities (28%).
The findings come from a newly-launched Community Research Index – an annual survey of over 7,000 adults across the UK designed to get a temperature check on how people are feeling about their communities and their key concerns for the year ahead. The Index will be used by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and enhance learnings gleaned from the thousands of projects and groups it funds each year.
Unsurprisingly, the COVID crisis has put a greater emphasis on health, with over a quarter (28%) of respondents saying they intend to be healthier in future. The experiences of the last year have also made people want to be more neighbourly (24%), kinder (21%) and more environmentally friendly (21%).
People are also optimistic that changes in behaviour brought about by the pandemic will be widespread. Almost half (48%) think community spirit will be better in the long-run following the pandemic – just 13% say it will be worse – while many agree that the pandemic will have a positive impact on the amount people care about others (46%) and the environment (40%).
In the last challenging year, being part of a community gave people a reassuring sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ (41%). They could see real benefits to being part of a community, including having people close by to help (35%), a sense of connection with others (34%) and a reduced sense of isolation (32%).
However, the biggest benefit of all was being able to give others support (37%), which confirms that helping others or volunteering brings its own rewards.
The research also delivers a well-deserved vote of confidence for the many thousands of people who stepped up to help their community during the pandemic – just one in ten people (10%) say that they don’t think the work of local community groups and projects has helped and supported people during the pandemic.
Faiza Khan MBE, Director of Engagement and Insight at The National Lottery Community Fund, said:
“A year of the crisis has put communities in the spotlight and changed how we view and value them. We’ve experienced the benefits of support, kindness and being there for each other and seen for ourselves the strengths communities bring. Our research suggests that the lessons learnt through the pandemic will be long-lasting and could change how we interact with each other in the future.
“As the largest funder of community activity in the UK, we have been privileged to see directly how people and groups stepped up to support their community through the challenges posed by the pandemic. These findings will sit alongside what we continue to hear and learn from them and will help inform our future funding. We hope that this appreciation of our communities continues, and even more people will feel encouraged or motivated to get involved.”
Baroness Barran, Minister for Civil Society, said:
“If there is one thing that the last 12 months have taught us, it’s the importance of social connections. The COVID-19 pandemic has tested our strength and resilience, but it’s also shown us that you cannot underestimate the power of community spirit. As we move out of the pandemic, I hope that we will continue to encourage people to connect via the things they enjoy or to opportunities in their local area and support others to do so too. This can have a huge impact on people’s feelings of loneliness and isolation.”
One person who has stepped up to volunteer and help their community during the pandemic is Ian Knowles, who lives in Stoke on Trent and started volunteering for the National Lottery funded project, Staffordshire Sight Loss Association (SSLA) last year.
“My sight loss really impacted my confidence and drive to go out and meet new people and make friends until I joined SSLA as a member. I joined the group in 2019 and attended face-to-face social sessions, yoga clubs and book groups – it all helped me to regain my confidence and feel positive again.
“When the pandemic hit, I wanted to do more to help people who had similar conditions to me, so I signed up to become one of SSLA’s telephone befriending volunteers. I make regular calls to other members just to check in and let them know that there is somewhere here who knows how they feel. I want to take that a step further, and I’m now training with SSLA to become a Welfare Rights Advisor to offer support when it comes to filling forms, applications and advice on accessing work.”
Another inspiring volunteer is Caroline Moyes Matheou, who during the pandemic stepped up as a telephone volunteer at the National Lottery funded Abbey Community Centre, based in Kilburn, London.
“I’ve been making phone calls as a volunteer since June. At the start, I was reaching out to about 160 people every 2/3 weeks just to check-in and see how they are, making sure they had the food and medicines they need. Some are happy with a quick call, but others I contact more regularly and for longer conversations. I’m really pleased to be that friendly voice on the other side of the line for them.”
For the last nine months, Caroline has been making regular calls to members and is pleased to be making such a positive difference to local lives. Thanks to National Lottery funding, the community centre moved their services online and are continuing to offer ongoing practical and emotional support to over 600 older people in the area through their befriending scheme.
“The pandemic has been an incredibly lonely time for a lot of people, and for some, I might be the only person they speak to over the course of a few weeks. The phrase I hear every time I make these phone calls is ‘thank you for caring’, and although it sounds dramatic, I will hear it about five times a day from people, they really are so thankful someone out there is checking in on them and available to talk if they need it.
“It’s quite hard to take on board that level of loneliness, but that’s why the work of the Abbey is so worthwhile, we really are helping to improve people’s mental health and reduce loneliness through our telephone service. Initially, my calls were a one-way offer of help, but now I have real conversations, and although some are very sad, many are uplifting too.”
For more information on The National Lottery Community Fund and the funding available to support communities, please visit: www.tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/funding/covid-19.
Research conducted on behalf of The National Lottery Community Fund by Opinium Research between 27th November and 8th December 2020, amongst 7,009 UK adults weighted to be nationally and politically representative.