Covid-19 produced a crisis that produced an extraordinary crisis response by ordinary people. Third sector organisations have been propping up statutory services for ages, and this became abundantly clear after 23rd March when a genuine disaster presented itself for thousands of vulnerable people.
The simple kindness and willingness of good people to do great things meant that neighbours didn’t go hungry, children were helped, older people were checked on and neighbourhood Whatsapp groups sprung up like mushrooms – all sorts of informal networks created little sparks of kindness in our communities and built upon the charities and community groups that have been working for years to help those who don’t have enough.
The problem that emerged, very quickly though, is that the third sector is constantly forced to work in rubbish buildings. Peeling paint, clanking radiators and rattling windows, mismatched chairs, stuck-together-lino, ancient computers and stuttering printers make an already challenging job like wading through glue at the best of times. Covid-19 has made it almost impossible to socially distance in broken down old churches, community halls, converted Victorian buildings and municipal unventilated spaces across the land, making it harder for clients and those who serve them.
The opportunity that is presented is for us to build back better and that means reimagining a community centre fit for the 21st Centre. Who is it for and what does it look like? What could we do differently to place vulnerable people, such as foodbank users, at the very heart of the services that charities offer so that they don’t have to constantly traipse between a patchwork of overlapping or gappy services to get help that they so desperately need? The climate emergency will change the way we use and heat spaces, this is an opportunity to see what we might do.