COVID-19 and community behaviour

The LGA has commissioned a report into shifts in public attitudes and behaviour caused by COVID-19 and the implications for local government.

Coronavirus has impacted on all of us; our working lives, our leisure time, our ability to travel and, not least, our health and mental wellbeing.

To help councils as they respond to the pandemic, the LGA commissioned BritainThinks to explore the ways in which COVID-19 has changed public attitudes and behaviours. 

The research, ‘Has COVID-19 changed the way communities behave?’, also aimed to understand more about how the public defines ‘local’ as a result of the pandemic, including any changes in attitude towards civic participation.

Perceptions of local areas and feelings of belonging were found to be driven by long-standing factors. For most, the pandemic has typically reinforced existing views rather than changed them. For example, the best things about local areas included the people, green spaces, access to amenities, diversity, and vibrancy, whereas the worst things included anti-social behaviour, crime, traffic, potholes, a sense of decline, and a lack of community feel.

Behaviours that had changed most, universally, as a result of the pandemic were those directly connected to government restrictions. Behaviour change relating to local issues such as leisure time, shopping, travel and civic participation were highly varied, and many felt life hadn’t changed much at all. 

Beyond initial priorities for returning to ‘normal’, the pandemic has led to an increase in online shopping and also high street shopping to support local businesses, and people were enjoying more personal time. 

A lack of knowledge about how to contribute to change locally was uncovered by the research. Most participants had taken part in small, individual actions, such as choosing to shop locally or signing petitions. A lack of time and information were cited as reasons preventing greater local involvement. However, the use of case studies in focus groups enabled ideas to flow on how people can have more of a say in the life of their community.

So, what do these findings mean for councils? Recovery needs to reflect and respond to people’s lived realities and experiences. The LGA’s research found a desire to return to normal, coupled with a need to build back better, fairer, and healthier. The research makes the case for ‘making normal better’ as a path that is ambitious and in touch with local people. The public is looking for solutions to long-standing issues such as anti-social behaviour and traffic problems, which they feel have been forgotten. But there is also a willingness to support local recovery through small actions that can make a difference, such as shopping locally.

Councils need to communicate possible routes to participation, with easy access points – online and offline – and use case studies to demonstrate that even small-time commitments can effect meaningful change. Motivational barriers may be further overcome by focusing on, or demonstrating a connection between, civic participation and the issues the public cares most about.

The report ‘Has COVID-19 changed the way communities behave?’ is available at bitly.ws/bLqc

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