Building community capacity isn’t easy. Yet over the past 4 weeks, we have seen the most wonderful demonstration of solidarity and unity coming from ordinary people, doing extraordinary things…we’ve seen community capacity in action – something that councils have been trying so hard to harness and mobilise for so long. In his latest blog, C.Co’s Sanjeet Bains looks at how the global pandemic has brought this to the fore and considerations for councils to build on the momentum gained


Building community capacity has been a key objective for Local Councils across the country for some time. Research, literature, and examples show the positive impact community capacity can have on localities – from keeping people independent and at home (e.g. casserole clubs), to promoting the health, wellbeing and positive environment of a community (e.g. knit and natter groups, community litter picking, baby and toddler groups) to ensuring a community has assets for their collective benefit (e.g. community-led libraries, parks, community centres). In turn, the skills, knowledge and capacity of community can protect valued services from the consequences of reducing budgets and austerity whilst also aiding the advancement and wellbeing of the community as a whole.

But building community capacity isn’t easy. What are the skills, strengths and the capacity of a community? Where is the capacity? How do you harness it so people can act creatively and work together for the benefit of their group? Is it informal social processes and/or organised effort? How do you know it is happening? How do you know it is making an impact?

Yet, in the last four weeks, in the midst of a global pandemic we have seen the most wonderful demonstration of solidarity and unity coming from ordinary people. We have seen community capacity in action…

  • An army of local volunteers, from church groups, neighbours to individuals checking in on each other, helping the vulnerable with shopping/essentials
  • Businesses and organisations helping their communities, whether it’s the local rugby club doing food deliveries or those with empty vans couriering supplies for food banks or restaurants making meals for key-workers.
  • People deploying their skills to help people cope at home; from free online fitness classes, virtual baby and toddler groups to tutoring and activities for children being home schooled.
  • People giving up their time….whether that be to phone an isolated older person or take a moment to check on a neighbour.
  • Over three quarters of a million people have become NHS volunteers
  • Retired doctors, nurses, social workers, carers have returned to their profession
  • People have deployed their skills and time to become key workers, from refuse collectors, to carers, to supermarket workers to keep people safe and fed.

The list goes on….and on….and on…..These examples are amazing and the stories behind individual groups and people heart-warming. But what they also show are the fundamental characteristics behind community capacity, on a national scale, that local authorities have been trying so hard to harness and mobilise for so long; A sense of community; A commitment among individuals to their community; The ability to solve problems; and Access to resources[i], whether that be a physical asset, a skill/knowledge/expertise or simply time.

It is a consequence of the global pandemic that the community capacity, we’ve been trying to find and harness for so long has come to the fore. I know that seeing it in action has had a profound impact on me, but is it likely to have a lasting legacy? – on how we view each other; our sense of duty and role as citizens; the relationship between people, public, private and community sectors and the value we place on public services.

Whatever the world looks like post-Covid, when we return to some semblance of ‘normal’ will we lose what we have gained in terms of our communities? As Councils begin to count the cost and service impact of the pandemic and return to a ‘new’ normal, it is important to think about how some of the learning and positives that we have seen from this crisis can be maintained and the role of councils in:

  • Sustaining and building a greater role for communities to play their part in service delivery;
  • Developing the infrastructure, exploring digital platforms to engage residents and community groups;
  • Championing a new deal for the voluntary and community sector aligned to the new normal;
  • Using the intelligence gathered to capture, understand and mobilise the skills, experience and knowledge in the community;
  • Thinking about how the skills and expertise of their own workforce can be deployed differently;
  • Supporting elected Members and community representatives to have the tools and training they need to carry out their community leadership roles; and
  • Thinking about how communities become more involved in shaping and governing public services.

It is more important now, more than ever that the momentum gained is maintained – we know what the community assets are, we know the knowledge, the skills, the capacity, we now need to make sure we keep it!


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[i] Chaskin (2001)