Shaping a fairer future from uncertainty
By Jim Minton, Chief Executive.
Joy* was a regular visitor to Toynbee Hall’s community centre, taking part in craft workshops with her friends and enjoying an active, healthy life. She’s now been isolated in her home for three months. I spoke with her as part of the hundreds of regular outreach phone calls we are making across the community. She was happy to hear from us, and we have reconnected her by phone with other friends. We know more and more people, young and old feel isolated, and anxious; and many more face other significant challenges. So we’re now lifting our heads up and think together about what the future will look like, what support we need to offer, and what kind of world we want to emerge into.
We need to maintain our focus on those who need us
East London’s communities have been amongst the hardest hit by the virus; and we have witnessed clearly its disproportionate impact on people from some BAME groups. Entrenched health inequalities, systemic and structural disadvantage in relation to race and social class affect the people we work with every day. The risks from overcrowded housing; and the poverty that exacerbates any illness are all too evident, and as well as offering our support, we must play our part in making urgent and long term change. Within our team and trustees, we co-produced a set of specific calls to action on these injustices, including commitments for our own organisation to continue to improve.
People in the communities around us have been hit harder too by the impact of the lockdown: many face prolonged isolation and loneliness; lost jobs or face uncertainty; families are struggling with home-schooling and caring; we are seeing the reality of the impact of digital exclusion on all aspects of people’s lives; and we’ve heard heart breaking stories of domestic abuse and destitution. We must continue to be there for those who need us, and to ensure their voices are heard.
Learn from those we work with and our partners as we plan the next phase
We are now planning how we continue to meet need and reach out in different ways, while working out how to reopen face to face services safely for those whose needs are better served by direct one to one support.
Locally, we are privileged to work with a huge number of partner organisations with strong connections across communities. We’re connecting mutual aid groups; and we have been hosting a busy food distribution service. By pooling our knowledge and creating space for the community to create solutions, we can help people better cope with those anxieties and feel more in control. This month we hosted discussions with local community members who have come forward and want to research the impact of the virus and the lockdown, and help shape solutions and take action together. Our commitment to them will be to ensure they are supported and that their voices are heard.
Listen to our team, keep them safe and bring them with us
Through this period our team have been hugely dedicated and responsive, and we have learned to adapt our thinking and delivery; collaborate and share learning. At the same time we are having to juggle our own challenges outside of work, just like anyone else. So as we plan our next steps, we have asked all of our team to tell us what will help themfeel safe; how we can support their wellbeing; what they value about remote working, and how we can ease its challenges. And what they want to return to when they come back to work. We will have lots to balance, and people will have different needs, but I know they value being asked and their input will be essential in helping us get things right.
Secure support for the long term
The raft of emergency funds have shown a willingness to support the immediate response. But our communities will be affected for many months to come, so there is a real need for funders to continue to support community organisations, so that we can continue to adapt – and to host, connect and facilitate other activities and partnerships. There needs also to be a long term commitment to the people who will continue to be fearful and at risk over the coming months and possibly years. Community organisations must be part of this support, but how we think about the care system and public health must be radically reappraised.
Shape a fairer happier future
In this context, we need urgently to start defining what a better future can look like. Community groups need to be not just in those discussions, but leading them. The GLA and our local authority have genuinely sought to reach out and listen to our experience and the voices of the communities we work alongside. Between us we can shape a better future with real ambition: challenging structural inequalities of race and class; ensuring Londoners enjoy a basic income; equipping everyone to be online; creating greener outdoor spaces; reducing food insecurity; creating better working conditions and safe fun places for young people; guaranteeing access to essential services regardless of someone’s immigration status. All of these things and much more are possible – and if they were needed before the crisis hit, they are even more needed now. The new London Recovery Board established by the Mayor, could provide a catalyst for bringing Londoners together around a bold agenda – and needs to be committed to learning from and being led by the voices of London’s communities.
Over the coming weeks we want to help host and contribute to discussions shaping that future vision, holding space for the voices and experience of the community around us. And we want to ensure we, our partners and our friends remain strong and sustainable for the people who need us. We hope others will join us. Together we can and must build a fairer and happier future.
* Real names have been changed to protect identities