Many of the restrictions that have been imposed in an effort to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 are being lifted. For some there is a fear these restrictions are being lifted too quickly, for others too slowly. But they are being lifted and we are starting to emerge from the first wave of COVID-19.
Much of the focus from government of all levels has been on the economy and business in recovering with little focus on the community. There is a real need to focus on local community. There is very much a role for local government in regard to the recovery of community.
The Response During COVID-19
Many local government entities enacted their disaster management plans during COVID-19. The activation of these plans was essential to guide Councils through this type of disaster. Although not a natural disaster it had a very similar impact on people. Businesses were disrupted, communities were disrupted, some people were isolated away from home and unable to leave an area. This was very much a time to put these plans in operation. It meant that Councils had a plan to follow in working with other authorities. In recovery many Councils have enacted their Disaster Recovery plans. Some of these are more community led than others but often they are the only plans a Council has as its disposal. This is particularly the case for local government areas who do not have a community development strategy or even the support of community development staff.
Lifting Restrictions. Now What?
The planning for recovery and the future of communities should really have commenced by now. If it hasn’t local government authorities will find a battle on their hands with slow recovering communities.
Rebuilding and deepening community is very much the responsibility and brief for local government. This is the level of government closest to the community and therefore the level of government best positioned to work alongside community in rebuilding and restructure.
Victoria MacKerdy is the CEO of Victor Harbour Council in South Australia. In a recent podcast from the Local Government Professionals Australia (https://soundcloud.com/lgprofessionals) stated that as we come out of COVID-19 we needed to “put our arms around each other”. This is an apt description of the action we must take. Not just those of us who are members of the community, but also the governments that serve these communities. We all need to “wrap our arms around each other” to help each other out of COVID-19. MacKerdy also went on to say that recovery needs to start with community and that every community is different.
With this in mind, local government will need to have an ear to community concerns, not just business concerns, but the issues brought up by the whole community. Where Councils can listen and work with each community there will be longer and stronger recovery of community with the positive flow on effects this has with the economy and further afield to the rest of the country. It is even better if local government listens, supports where they can, understands when to step back and let community lead where it can.
No One Left Behind
COVID-19 has given us the chance to rethink who we are as individuals, as a community and as a nation. Let’s not waste this reflection. Some of us have begun to give more to our local community and have made greater connection with others in their street. This is a great result. Hopefully, some who have felt previously isolated have begun to make new connection during the pandemic. Let’s not leave these people behind in recovery. There will also be those who have remained isolated, without any connection. Let’s find a way to connect with as many people as we can and leave no one behind.
Small actions in placemaking and community building often make the biggest difference. Sometimes the more quirky these actions the more powerful in creating change. There are numerous examples of this during the current crisis. We can think of the resident in Cairns, Queensland who worked on his fence so that it could swing down to make a table so he could still have regular neighbour get togethers without breaching physical distancing requirements or those who have had driveway drinks or driveway dinners. These are small actions and start to make a difference. Don’t worry if you think what you are doing is not enough. Even if it seems small and insignificant anything you do to create a more connected community is powerful.
Let’s work to (figuratively) put our arms around each other and make our way together out of COVID-19 with a stronger community than we had before. Contact your local Council and find out what they are doing in recovery and encourage them to work with the community in the same way they would work with the business community.