The global pandemic has proven that people are far more vulnerable than many of us thought. However, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the power, resilience and potential of grassroots and community-led action. There have been many inspiring examples of how community and voluntary organisations have stepped up to meet the huge challenges that the pandemic poses. As we start to shift from emergency response to planning for the ‘new normal’, we should all be asking ourselves how we can support and strengthen the kindness, solidarity and energy that has been shown in our communities.
The meanings, applications and implications of the concept of ‘resilience’ are contested, varied and not well understood. A definition of resilience needs to recognise that it’s not necessarily about bouncing back to the status quo but the ability to shift and adapt to a fundamental shift in circumstances. Community resilience describes the sustained ability of communities to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity. Community resilience must be at the heart of a green recovery.
Amid the resulting uncertainty, a window of hope and opportunity opens: an opportunity to shape the economy in ways that are greener, cleaner, healthier and more resilient. We must seize the opportunity to transform how we understand, plan, finance and respond to risks. We must integrate climate resilience into decisions at all levels of government, local authorities and communities. Communities have a role to play but are not often able to affect systemic change. However, supporting communities to be more sustainable will empower them to respond better to challenges arising from issues such as climate change and the nature crisis. In the context of a green recovery, we must harness community energy and enthusiasm. Scotland’s geography and history has led to the creation of diverse communities: from remote highland and island villages and towns, to the cosmopolitan cities of the central belt. Communities are best placed to make decisions and act themselves, shaped by their own local geographies and demographics.
Healthy ecosystems help increase the resilience of Scotland’s communities to the impacts of climate change. Securing these through an ‘ecosystems approach’ means taking account of the benefits that nature provides for people and involving people and communities in decision-making. Scotland has multiple organisations offering a diverse range of projects which support and enable communities to connect with nature and ‘green’ their lifestyle to have a positive impact on the planet. Community projects empower individuals to build an understanding of the nature and climate crises by increasing access to green space and improving mental and physical health through connection to nature. Keep Scotland Beautiful campaigns, acts and educates on a range of local, national and global environmental issues to change behaviour and improve the quality of people’s lives and the places they care for.
Barry Fisher, Chief Executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful said:
“Throughout the challenges of the past seven months, Keep Scotland Beautiful has been consistently struck by the resilience and ingenuity of community groups, normally focused on improving our neighbourhoods and climate, in leading positive action to help us get through this difficult time. From Climate Challenge Fund-supported projects such as Bike for Good in Glasgow, which at the height of the pandemic provided free loan bikes and virtual route planning to key workers, to It’s Your Neighbourhood groups such as the Darkwood Crew in Renfrewshire, which distributed food, picked up prescriptions and even hosted a ‘social isolation bingo bus’, the groups we work with have shown incredible energy and creativity in supporting their local communities and helping maintain a sense of social cohesion and solidarity. We firmly believe that recent months have shown the huge potential of community-led action in driving and catalysing positive change, and that a truly effective response to the climate and nature emergencies in Scotland needs to be one that makes the most of what communities have to offer.”
Communities must be viewed as assets and as key actors in both preparedness and long-term resilience. Building public understanding of the nature and climate crises can be a challenge. However, we need to understand what engages and motivates people to respond. Over lockdown, people shifted their relationship to the natural environment at a time when access to shared outdoor space has rarely been so difficult. However, the current lockdown is proving challenging for millions of people across the country who do not have access to greenspace. Greenspace provides important mental and physical benefits for people as well as helping to conserve biodiversity and reverse nature’s decline so that wildlife can thrive, not just survive. Improving the quality of our urban and rural environment is vital if we are to deliver on our ambition to make Scotland a greener, fairer and more resilient country. An example of a charity championing access to the countryside is Ramblers Scotland. Their work involves looking after paths and green spaces, leading walks and encouraging people to get outside and connect to nature.
Helen Todd, Campaigns and Policy Manager of Ramblers Scotland said:
“We have around 1,200 Ramblers volunteer walk leaders across Scotland and each of our 55 Ramblers groups, from Wigtownshire to Inverness, has a programme of regular walks. We all know how important it is for our health and wellbeing to get outdoors all year round, and it’s particularly important now to build personal resilience in order to cope with the Covid-19 Pandemic. There are particular benefits to walking in a group. These include maintaining social contact, building communities and keeping motivated, especially in the winter months when it can be difficult to get out of the door. Older people are supported to keep active through the group walks, but we also have thriving young walker groups who make the most of opportunities to get outdoors together and learn the skills they need.”
Green space, growing, food production and increasing biodiversity have enormous benefits to building sustainable and resilient communities with a wealth of evidence available in terms of benefits of health and wellbeing, community cohesion, ecology and climate change adaptation. Civil society organisations such as Keep Scotland Beautiful and Ramblers Scotland strengthen partnership working between people, government and organisations as well as facilitating public engagement. Coronavirus has reminded us of what is important; looking after each other and our communities. The local layer of action and national initiatives must work alongside each other. National plans are essential for achieving fast and systematic change; however, they must be designed to work with and alongside a local layer of action. Community led action offers a massive and largely untapped opportunity to address the nature and climate crises. To build back a better and greener economy, we need to see this community resurgence as a power source. Communities must be empowered to take the economy on as we rescue, recover and reform in the wake of Covid-19.
Species Champion Coordinator at Scottish Environment LINK