'Tackling coronavirus will require community response'

Community learning and development staff are supporting people through the coronavirus crisis, writes Alan Sherry

Alan Sherry

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In times like this, the role that community learning and development practitioners play in supporting communities is even more essential than normal. CLD workers provide a range of support to young people, adults and community groups, building both individual and collective capacity which will be essential in the challenging times ahead.

It is likely that communities will be more dependent than ever on local solutions and support networks and the ongoing role of CLD workers has been essential in developing the capacity of groups and in the creation of such local network structures across Scotland.

As schools and colleges close and with more people working from home, CLD practice and approaches will be crucial in ensuring that people are provided with easily understood health/social care information that can be shared quickly through community contacts.

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Coronavirus: The importance of community learning

This will enable communities to repurpose or develop support networks which meet their needs rather than relying on a top/down approach where one size fits all. In the era of misinformation, spread quickly by social media, having respected community voices talking knowledgeably to their friends and neighbours will help us all to deal with the crisis.

While self-isolation may prevent the spread of the virus, it has the potential to have a negative effect on the lives of those who have previously depended on CLD provision for social interaction. CLD staff are working to develop innovative ways of engaging with individuals, not all of which will rely on ICT as the means of delivering this support. Greater than ever collaboration between local authority and third sector CLD providers will be necessary to ensure a range of opportunities to combat social isolation. This will emerge quickly as steps are already being taken in many areas to put this joined-up working in place.

There will also be a need for CLD staff to continue to advocate on behalf of those vulnerable groups who often do not have easy access to decision-makers or those in authority. Senior CLD staff, especially, will have a crucial role to play in seeking to ensure that both national and local governments provide funding to support those vulnerable individuals and communities who are most likely to suffer disproportionately from the economic consequences of this pandemic.

We are hearing already of foodbanks running out of stock as people panic buy. Therefore, encouraging existing community groups to continue to support the more vulnerable will be a key focus of CLD activities in the coming weeks and possibly months.

Tackling the Covid-19 pandemic will require both individual and community responses. The CLD workforce will respond promptly and effectively to the challenges that arise, supporting both individuals and communities. Though none of us have lived through a health issue such as this on a scale or of this magnitude, many CLD workers have supported their communities through health, economic or social matters which have had a devastating impact on individuals, families and smaller neighbourhoods.  This experience will inform the approaches which will be developed in collaboration with individuals and communities as we address the nature of this crisis.

Alan Sherry OBE is chair of the Community Learning and Development Standards Council for Scotland

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Alan Sherry

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