Agile, connected and caring: the response of Space to Connect projects to COVID-19

At the beginning of the first lockdown, we interviewed 31 of the community organisation funded through the Space to Connect programme about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their projects and about their adaptions and responses to changing needs within communities. (More information about Space to Connect is available here).

We found that the COVID-19 crisis has clearly generated new and very significant challenges for many, if not all, of the Space to Connect projects and community organisations delivering them, relating both to the pandemic itself and the policy response to it.

Most organisations responded with a high degree of urgency to refocus approaches and priorities, to make decisions about staffing and contractors, and to manage ‘business resilience’ to ensure viability into the immediate future.

We observed three broad organisational responses. Firstly, the majority ‘pivoted’ their Space to Connect activities towards emergent community needs and using their ‘space’ and wider resources in new or different ways. We heard how projects responded in coherent and practical ways to provide resources to the most vulnerable through services such as food banks, connecting people to statutory services and providing a range of activities that enable people to interact socially. Secondly, a small number simply ‘stopped the clock’ on their Space to Connect activities – putting everything on hold and hoping to pick up where they left off once the situation stabilised. Thirdly, another small group continued their Space to Connect activities as planned, but effectively shifted all activity online or into other channels (such as telephone).

The future for many projects was seen as fragile and one in which creative solutions were needed – shifting to digital platforms for engagement, diversifying income streams and being able to respond to new and emerging local needs.

The experience of these projects during this period raises important questions. Most importantly how to move to more co-produced relationship between VCS organisations and local funders. During this stage of the pandemic Space to Connect projects provided leadership at pace in responding to this crisis – at a time when in some cases national and local leadership was still evolving. Yet, funding and planning regimes are often conditional on delivery of narrowly defined outputs – that can restrict entrepreneurialism, reduce autonomy and weaken community infrastructure. The other important challenge that has emerged is the need to revisit what we understand by ‘community space’ to develop a more inclusive view that recognises the relationship between physical and virtual spaces. In the remainder of this paper, we examine responses to these challenges in greater detail, looking specifically at: funding, changes in focus or activities, networks and relationships, community engagement, and expectations and plans for the future.

You can read our full report here.

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