This week marked a whole year since we entered a national ‘lockdown’ for the very first time.
The emergency restrictions placed on our everyday lives in response to coronavirus have seen working from home, social distancing and wearing a mask become part of our ‘new normal’.
While limiting the spread of the virus – these conditions have sadly exacerbated the spread of inequality in many disadvantaged communities. This impact has been particularly stark for children, young people and families.
In the neighbourhoods CNS supports, the pandemic has made the work we do more relevant and essential than ever before.
As we pass this strange anniversary, here we highlight the important work carried out by our Local Coordinators, our Research team, and our many partners across CNS neighbourhood sites during this challenging time.
Their efforts have been crucial to the delivery of vital, everyday provision in these communities. They’ve also provided key insights that can support the next phase of COVID-19 recovery at both local and national levels in Scotland.
Digitising neighbourhoods during lockdown
As the coronavirus crisis developed, our way of working with partners and community organisations had to adapt very quickly. Working from home became the default position for many. Figuring out new ways to deliver our programme, while supporting the most vulnerable in our communities, was the main priority.
Our CNS team also grew during this challenging time. Four new neighbourhood sites were created at Castlemilk, Drumchapel, Lanark and Rigside.
In the early weeks of the crisis, our Local Coordinators provided direct support to their neighbourhood sites wherever possible. This was done through the provision of resources, or by collecting and distributing local response information.
Going online was therefore key to our programme progressing. Digital platforms enabled CNS to build and maintain relationships with local organisations, alter and adapt existing practices, and develop new partnership projects in response to the pandemic. This built on insights we received from local people as well.
In addition, our Local Coordinators built relationships with local schools, exploring ways to deliver our Capabilities Research model digitally. They’ll work with children, young people and partners to take forward actions based on the priorities identified through this process.
Rapid response research: key findings
As we were already working with children, young people, and organisations in areas with high levels of poverty, we were well-placed to capture the early lessons from this unprecedented public health emergency.
In partnership with our colleagues at Policy Scotland and The Network for Social and Educational Equity, CNS undertook rapid response research exploring the unequal impacts of the pandemic in neighbourhoods within Glasgow and South Lanarkshire.
Our programme of research emphasised the pandemic’s effects from various perspectives. They included children, young people, families, frontline workers, refugee and migrant families, and those living and working in rural areas:
Findings from Glasgow and South Lanarkshire highlighted increased financial insecurity as a result of loss of – or disruption to – employment. There were delays in payments of Universal Credit (UC) as high numbers of people claimed it for the first time. As well as this, there were also increased costs for families being at home full time.
Frontline workers in both local authorities expressed concern for families who were previously ‘just coping’, and had now fallen into poverty as a result of the pandemic.
Migrant families in Glasgow were particularly vulnerable to the economic impact of the pandemic. This was due to higher pre-existing levels of poverty, insecure employment, and a lack of access to social security.
Food insecurity, a key issue affecting many families, particularly in the early stages of lockdown, was complicated by the complex nature of rural poverty, and the existence of pockets of ‘hidden deprivation’ in South Lanarkshire.
Social impact of lockdown
Frontline workers in all our studies stressed that the loss of social relationships and support networks, both formal and informal, placed an additional burden on families during lockdown.
For recently arrived migrants and refugees, the isolation caused by lockdown disrupted the social integration process, with the closure of schools restricting children’s opportunities for both practicing their English and building social relationships.
Parents struggled with the pressures of supporting their children’s learning at home. This was heightened by additional barriers such as language proficiency and literacy in the case of many migrant families.
While some families enjoyed the opportunity to spend more time together, and some children benefitted from a release in the pressures of attending school, there was a strong concern that the pandemic would exacerbate existing educational inequalities for children living in high poverty neighbourhoods.
Across Scotland and the UK, the pandemic resulted in a remarkable voluntary sector response. After the first national lockdown was announced, statutory services suspended or reduced most of their services. Community and voluntary organisations then took the lead in mobilising resources.
After an initial focus on emergency food provision, over time voluntary organisations expanded their support to families. Moves were made to address other practical needs – such as fuel poverty, digital access, and emotional support.
In both Glasgow and South Lanarkshire, funding application processes were streamlined. This allowed voluntary organisations to repurpose their grants to meet the urgent needs of families.
With the loss of face-to-face contact from statutory key workers such as teachers, social workers, and doctors, voluntary sector workers were key to building and maintaining trusting relationships with members of the public.
Informing the recovery
Our rapid response research played a crucial role in providing evidence-informed intelligence at both local and national levels. It highlighted the pandemic’s impact on communities, and offered guidance on future responses and priorities for the recovery agenda.
We also published a literature review, presenting evidence to support a continued shift in focus from ‘vulnerability’ to ‘resilience’. This looked at how resilience-building for children, young people and families can be embedded in the COVID-19 recovery phase, while positively shaping medium- to longer-term planning.
As the UK’s vaccination rollout steadily continues, the prospect of post-lockdown life feels much closer. While masks and hand sanitiser might remain part of the new routine, it’s more important than ever we strive towards removing barriers to equality, ensuring they are not part of our ‘new normal’.
The findings from our research can be read in more detail in the reports below. Further information is also available on our COVID-19 resources webpage.