It has been nearly fifteen months since the start of the first Covid-19 lockdown in the UK.

In that time we have seen a brilliant collective effort across our communities that should be remembered and celebrated, including the inspiring effort of key workers and kind neighbours.

Yet as we look ahead, what challenges remain for our communities, what barriers have been created or have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and how much of that collective effort will continue as we return to a ‘normal’ everyday life? These are questions that we continue to ask at Starting Point, as we reflect on the pandemic and plan how we move forward.

In our community like many others, we have seen new groups set up and neighbours get involved who were not as active before. We have seen socially distanced Easter egg hunts organised, a community phoneline set up to help people connect with others, neighbours going above and beyond to support each other. These events and activities have brought a new sense of optimism and enthusiasm to our local community and our organising efforts.

As a small organisation led by lived experience and listening to local people, we have been flexible throughout the pandemic to work with our staff and neighbours. This has included using our space to help distribute food in the first lockdown and being supportive of the needs of staff members, especially those with childcare responsibilities. We have partneredwith another social enterprise to run activities with young people, including poetry sessions, guitar lessons and podcast making workshops. Based on feedback from local people, we have built a new meeting space in our coffee shop, free for community use.

Yet we still have a long way to go, and we know there are challenges ahead. During a recent youth community organising session on our local shopping precinct, a resident asked the young people why they were sat on “their grass”. We have seen other instances of people being quick to judge, assuming the worst of others or that young people will vandalise a new feature in the community. If we cannot collectively address these concerns in our communities, by bringing people together and looking at why these attitudes exist, then we risk losing any progress we have made in our communities during the pandemic.

We have recently started having doorstep conversations again in our community, having been reliant on other forms of listening during lockdown. It is clear that there is hope in our streets and neighbourhoods, inspired by stories of people doing gardening for their neighbours, helping with shopping, checking on them or having a socially distanced chat. This widely unrecognised depth of kindness and neighbourliness can make a massive difference, to individuals and to communities, and if organised could create strong forces for change in our society.

However, these conversations have also raised significant issues and concerns around wellbeing, mental health, young people, traffic and air pollution, anger over promises made by decision makers and not delivered, and more. Therefore, as we look ahead, we are incredibly optimistic about the future of our communities but we are also cautious. It is the work of communities and organisations, including our fellow APLE members, that inspires us to keep going and shows us that a better tomorrow is possible.

This is not to say that the path ahead will be easy, far from it, but by putting lived experience, and the expertise of our neighbours and communities, at the heart of our collective effort, we can create positive, long lasting change.

In our area we are supporting a process of local people taking ownership of community assets, we are looking to recruit a Youth Community Organiser to work directly with young people in a local secondary school, and we are just about to launch a community census, with local people paid as researchers to identify opportunities for change. Examples like these, happening right across the country, give us the hope we need for the future of our communities and our society.

We are proud members of the APLE Collective and we love hearing of the work done by other members right across the UK. Thank you to you all.

Daniel Oliver, Community Organiser at Starting Point