From Community Empowerment to Community Power – what COVID-19 is teaching us about the relationship between citizens, communities and the state

From Community Empowerment to Community Power – what COVID-19 is teaching us about the relationship between citizens, communities and the state

CCSE Steering Group Member, Pippa Coutts, recently published the following post as part of Carnegie UK Trust’s series sharing reflections and questions across different aspects of wellbeing duing the COVID19 crisis. This post first appeared on the Carnigie UK Trust page.

‘It’s community development on steroids: the partnership working, communities empowered, the generosity, the kindness’.

As part of our contribution to the COVID-19 emergency, we have been talking to people we know in towns and communities across the UK to hear their stories of what is happening on the ground. These conversations are with a range of people from volunteers, to business owners, to staff in charities, to public sector employees. They give us the opportunity to look for the common threads in people’s experiences to help us understand what we can do to #buildbackbetter once the initial emergency phase has passed.

We have been moved and inspired by people’s willingness to talk with us and by the stories they have told of mutual support. These include: food parcels for children missing out on school meals; pubs delivering meals, checking in on regulars and asking how they feel; school kitchens cooking for the community; street performances of opera and bingo; chefs arranging the distribution of fresh, local produce; arts groups collecting people’s stories or going online – the Future Paisley podcast explores the impact of Covid-19 on culture and in neighbourhoods in real time – but also calling and mentoring people who are digitally excluded.

Individuals and friends in many communities were quick to respond to the crisis themselves – setting up WhatsApp and Facebook groups, rapidly bringing people together to help. For example, in Todmorden, Your Tod Squad was started by one person just before lockdown and, like many other spontaneous groups, adopted a boots-on-the-ground approach, distributing leaflets with a phone number offering support.

The success of these efforts comes from people working together. In many of the stories we are hearing, both local authority and third sector staff have ‘stepped up’ alongside volunteers to meet people’s basic needs. Generally, councils first focused on setting up systems to cater for the shielded population and people over 70 and living alone. Some places, like Lancaster City Council – which covers Lancaster and Morecambe  – have gone beyond this, developing new lists through pooling their knowledge with others, like the fire brigade, parish councils, and the third sector, bringing together information from charities that have often been working in only one sphere, like employability or homelessness. The Council has contacted 16,000 people who they consider vulnerable proactively – including traveller communities, people who have recently applied for universal credit and new parents – who haven’t used social support before. In other areas, local government already had and now is relying on ward or community development workers, who know well communities’ needs, for information on needs. These stories give us a glimpse of the power of bringing together information to support citizens and communities.

Councils have supported third sector and business organisations too, for example with funds to tide them over until UK Government funding stepped in. The most fruitful partnerships are where there was already a culture and system of working together. Towns that have responded to floods over the last four years already had emergency systems in place and were able to use those. But often it is more than that: it is about a way of working in which people recognise the value of the skills and networks of others. In one community, local emergency co-ordinators said ‘tell us what do you need to do, what you want to do, and we’ll help you’. This reflects a change in public services’ approach to delivering services. One the Trust advocates for in the Enabling State, which calls on public services to ‘create the conditions in which individuals and communities are equally able to take action to improve their own and others’ lives’.

The COVID-19 emergency has let us see what only the state can do (set up hospitals, fund research into a vaccine, shift resources to the front line) and what only communities can do (mobilise and respond quickly by building on existing relationships, pool collective resources, think creatively about what assets are available). The crisis has, at local government level, allowed the state to let go to allow others to step forward. Red tape has been cut, with businesses and voluntary organisations able to access grants more quickly, and regulations, such as restaurants being able to provide outside catering, relaxed. It has brought a desire to be and work together: both in neighbourhoods and perhaps also between communities and their local governments, with one council citing FOIs and complaints to councils drying up as a sign of a community’s support.

Of course, greater mutual support is not universally true. We have heard examples of where local government has not been visible or was in the way of a rapid community response. We know that not all communities have the same capacity to engage: there are inequalities in social capital within and between them. Now, as the initial phase of contacting shielded individuals plateaus, many workers are wondering about people who have not come forward for support. Council employees and activists alike talked of ‘listening to the silence’ and their fears for those who might need support, in the longer terms, but who have not been in touch.  People whose mental health has suffered from the stress, the anxiety, the uncertainty, the under employment, the poverty, the loss, the isolation of the epidemic. People living in places where the networks of support weren’t already there to reach out. Families whose main contact with the state was through school, who are not ‘known’ to health or community services. We heard of a young people’s support organisation delivering menus and food appropriate for primary school aged children because they are preparing the households’ food where adults can’t cope. Community workers are concerned alcohol consumption has increased amongst people who habitually drink more.

Soon, the state, community and individual responses to the pandemic will move on from emergency mode – providing food and health care. Learning from the positive stories of community action and where the state has given communities more opportunity to shape the response, can encourage lasting change. There may be some way to go in resetting the relationship between the state and communities but in the emergency we see green shots, which we will continue to explore and plan to use to inspire wider and longer-lasting change.

For more on the Enabling State: see A Route Map to an Enabling State

Pippa Coutts is Policy and Development Manager, Carnegie UK Trust

More postings from Carnegie UK Trust can be found here.

The Future Paisley Podcast

The Future Paisley Podcast

Instagram Live, Zoom quiz nights, podcasts, at home workouts. In the last few months these forms of connections have skyrocketed into the public consciousness with everyone and their granny (literality) logging on to connect with the world. It makes sense, now more than ever we all are desperate to grasp onto as much human connection as we can.

Prior to lockdown Future Paisley was building some great momentum with the Green Tease Event, the success of the Book Festival and lots of other exciting projects in the horizon. However along with the rest of the world a lot of this had to be put on hold. The idea of creating a podcast came to us when the sadness and reality of all this really hit, it shone a little light of hope during a dark time.

Fast forward a few weeks, we have a schedule, we have a production team (Erskine Arts) and we have our first two guest ready to record in their home-made recording booths.


The conversation between our first guests Sharon McAuley from the Star Project and Alan McNiven from Engage Renfrewshire, was funny, insightful and honest. They spoke of how people and communities are coping and doing what they can to make all this a little bit more manageable.

These podcasts hope to give a voice to the people who aren’t being heard right now, and we want them to be real and reassuring. Being honest about how we are feeling and, how we are attempting to cope right now, is possibly one of the most positive and productive things that everyone can do for themselves and others at this moment. It’s really important to be reminded that everyone is going through the same thing you are. As Alan mentioned in the recording, people just have to be a bit more explicit about how we are feeling at this moment in time because we all need that spark of connection in our lives.

As well as providing an important form of local connection, each episode will also be used as time capsule, to capture some of the uniquness of this current experience. Something that we can use to show the ways in which culture “coped,” demonstrated its resilience during this uncertain time as well as helping us to marshal ours!

If you would like to have a listen, you can find it on Spotify and SoundCloud, we have a more exciting episodes to come!


Festivals, Events & the COVID-19 Pandemic

Festivals, Events & the COVID-19 Pandemic

CCSE Deputy Director Professor David McGillivray has recently published the following blog post as part of the FESTSPACE project he leads discussing the impact and implications of COVID-19 on the festivals, events and public spaces that project is investigating. This post first appeared on the FESTSPACE website.


Our FESTSPACE project was conceived in a pre COVID-19 world, where those interested in festivals, events and urban policy were debating how to best design and manage public spaces to bring people together, to encourage co-presence and generate convivial atmospheres involving as wide a representation of the population as possible. At that time, our concerns were about how to ensure festive public spaces were inclusive, more open and less commercial. People talked to us about the economic imperative exerting undue influence on how public spaces were being used, and managed. People complained about too many festivals and events taking place in their parks or civic squares, removing much valued public spaces for extended periods of time. However, over the last few weeks, as the global pandemic consumes our thoughts 24-hours a day, across the world a common language of social distancing has dominated our conversations, accompanied by the stark reality of ‘lockdown’. Social interactions and exchanges are discouraged, gatherings of more than two people are banned, and planned outdoor festivals and events are postponed or cancelled until as yet unknown future dates.

Across the UK and Ireland, parks and green spaces have introduced restrictions to prevent well-intentioned families from inadvertently spreading the virus. Streets are empty, civic squares are populated only by urban wildlife and many well known urban centres resemble ghost towns. Iconic annual festivals and events, sporting and cultural, have fallen victim to COVID-19. Euro2020 has been postponed (to 2021) and Glastonbury, Wimbledon, The Open Championship, St Patrick’s Day Parades, and Edinburgh Festivals have been cancelled. Established in 1947 Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe festival have taken place every year drawing huge audiences and contributing an estimated £300m to the economy. The Festival Fringe takes over Edinburgh’s cityscape during the month of August each year and organisers have cancelled early because they can’t envisage large gatherings on the streets of the city being possible in the near future.

In London, which has a high concentration of COVID-19 cases, there has been a significant amount of debate about the use and regulation of parks during the lockdown. Most parks and green spaces remain open, although all facilities within them such as playgrounds, cafes and toilets are closed. These spaces play a key role as sites where Londoners can look after their physical and mental wellbeing, a function which now seems more important than ever. Many citizens do not have their own gardens and people living in flats and small residences are particularly anxious about being denied access to public green spaces. Unlike the city’s squares and streets which are relatively empty and unusually quiet, large parks surrounded by densely populated neighbourhoods remain heavily used. This includes Finsbury Park which is the key case study for the team of #Festspace researchers based in London. Media campaigns and physical signs have been employed to encourage people to adhere to new regulations and guidelines – keeping 2 metres apart and only using the parks for exercise (walking, running or cycling). There are concerns that if the new rules are not followed, then more parks will follow the example of East London’s largest park Victoria Park which has been closed since March 25th because some users continued to gather in groups. Here and elsewhere, people have flouted the rules by sun-bathing, barbecuing, picnicking, using skateparks, kite flying and engaging in other activities deemed to be non-essential. It seems people are unwilling or unable to resist socialising in parks. Early on in the lockdown period, new rules were enforced mainly by self-regulation. But in the past few days, there are increasing reports of police moving people on who were gathered in small groups or lingering unnecessarily. On Sunday 5th April Brockwell Park – which serves a very densely populated part of South London – was closed after 3,000 people turned up to enjoy the fine weather. The Park reopened the following day, but the closure sent a warning to people that authorities would close parks if they were unable to guarantee safe use. This threat has been reiterated by several national government ministers at the daily media briefings. All festivals and events planned for London’s parks from now until the end of June have been cancelled or postponed. Events scheduled for July and August are also expected to be cancelled over the next few weeks. This will disappoint many people who were looking forward to attending one of the many music festivals scheduled to take place in London’s parks – e.g. All Points East in Victoria Park or Lovebox in Gunnersbury Park. However, some London Friends groups (e.g. Friends of Finsbury Park) have campaigned for a fallow year (something which the organisers of Glastonbury do every few years) which would allow park environments time to recover from their intensive use as sites for festivals. Now it seems they will get their wish – although in circumstances that no one would have wanted to see. …..

A Park in Dublin

In Sweden the strategy to fight the spread of COVID-19 is more liberal compared to most other countries in Europe. Although some organisations like universities have moved to remote teaching, most businesses and workplaces have remained open, and people have been allowed to move around without restrictions other than to follow social distancing advice and minimizing their physical social contacts. The Swedish COVID-19 strategy has been to encourage people to take moral responsibility without legal restrictions, a traditional approach in Swedish society, based on the fact that Swedes tend to trust authorities and the right to move around freely is stated in the Swedish constitution. That said, public events and festivals are still suffering from the COVID-19 outbreak in Sweden.  At the beginning of March, authorities there limited public events to no more than 500 individuals, like in other parts of Europe. At the start of April, the number of individuals allowed to gather for public events was reduced to no more than 50 people. While schools for children under the age of 15 are still open, public events and festivals are more or less abandoned. And yet, restaurants, pubs and private gatherings are not included in the restrictions, in order to maintain some semblance of normality for the Swedish economy and social life. As all public events and festivals are effectively cancelled, both private and public event organizations are facing financial emergency situations and many will struggle to survive until the summer.

In Barcelona, authorities have followed a strict lockdown strategy and social life has disappeared in public spaces to prevent rapid contagion.

Plaça Catalunya (March 2020)

This situation is replicated across Spain, with no activity in public spaces. Barcelona was quick to realise the impact of COVID-19 with the cancellation of one of the biggest events hosted by the city, the Mobile World Congress, in mid-February.  Subsequently, a long list of festivals and events have been postponed or cancelled, including Festival Greg, Primavera Sound, the International Book Day (Sant Jordi), and neighborhood festivities such as Sant Josep Oriol. However, out of this uncertainty creative and innovative responses have emerged from citizens, institutions, event organisers and companies. Everyday cultural and sporting activities have been established to create solidarity and to make life more bearable for those confined to their homes. These include #LaCulturaTAcompanya (culture accompanies you),  #BCNesMoudinsCasa, (Barcelona moves inside home) or online festivals such as D’A Film Festival. The most fascinating initiatives are those spontaneous ones, initiated by individuals and communities to share and entertain during these challenging times. One excellent example is balcony festivals – small intimate events on the city’s balconies and terraces. These festivals have seen singers including Begoña Alberdi  and Ruth Lorenzo singing opera each evening, or musicians such as Alberto Gestoso or Benet Vázquez, Àdria Cañellas and Jordi Juli playing to residents.

Across our European case cities (Glasgow, Dublin, London Barcelona and Gothenburg) and further afield, outdoor and indoor public gatherings have decimated the festivals and events sector. However, we are witnessing varied responses to the crisis, with the desire for social connection producing new ways of people gathering to share their artistic, cultural and sporting interests. Some of these responses have been very simple – moments in the day when members of the public emerge onto their streets to applaud health care workers on the front line. In Dublin, people living in apartment complexes have been playing bingo outdoors so as to maintain social connectivity and tiny groups of people have expressed their communal identity by coming onto the streets and outdoor space in their neighbourhoods to engage in exercise, song and dance, and chat, all the time respecting ‘social distancing’.

People exercising in the street in Dublin

Digital public spaces have also proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic as we gather online, joining Facebook parties to participate in quizzes, Instagram Live to hear our favourite artists perform acoustic sets from their homes, or Houseparty to replicate the regular weekend soirée. Events previously held in public spaces have also moved online. For example, in Gothenburg, the face-to-face event, Lunch Beat, where people come together in different public spaces on a monthly basis to dance during lunchtime to a live DJ has now become a virtual Facebook/Instagram/Youtube event. While virtual festivity does little to facilitate surprise encounters with difference and physical proximity with strangers, it does provide a very useful way for already-existing networks to maintain their connections.

Finally, we’re likely to be in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic for some weeks or months yet, and the longer term implications of the pandemic on the relationship between festivals, events and public spaces are difficult to assess. However, some of the research questions that are likely to arise include:

  • How will people respond to a loosening of social distancing measures across Europe, including how festival and event organisers adapt their practices?
  • Will there be an ongoing fear of gathering in public space to celebrate collectively, for how long, and with what implications for social life and cohesion?
  • What is the impact of COVID-19 on the value associated with access to, and use of, public space (s), including parks, and civic squares?
  • What will happen to the new practices and cultures established during the COVID-19 pandemic once the lockdown is relaxed?
  • How will internationally-important festivals and events dependent on tourism visitation respond to the changes to travel practices likely to ensure post-COVID-19?

We are living in a new normal with uncertainty a feature of every area of economic, social and cultural life for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 is not the first time in human history that festivals and events have had to be suspended or cancelled but it has certainly generated a shock to the system that few people could have imagined. Time will tell what the long term effects on festivals, events, public space and public-ness will be.

Third Sector Chief Exec-ing during Covid-19

Third Sector Chief Exec-ing during Covid-19

Seven weeks in…

These are my reflections on working as a third sector / civil society Chief Executive during these bizarre, unsettled and challenging times.

The last few weeks have been inspiring and stressful in equal measure. I wanted to try to capture and publish some of this.

Why share in this way? Conversation starters, and because I love reading this kind of ‘working in the open’ content myself.

I’d love to talk more about any of this, so please get in touch if you feel the same.


What has struck me over and over again is the power of the civil society and the importance of community-led and community embedded centres and hubs during this crisis and how we have at WHALE along with other local charities, social enterprises, churches and residents associations managed to respond quickly to organise around initially phone-calls and food. And how this has rapidly progressed to looking at how we can support IT needs for those without suitable devices to join the raft of services that have moved online, to looking at the role we can play in improving mental health and wellbeing through creativity and kindness.

According to WHO Civil Society: ‘refers to the space for collective action around shared interests, purposes and values, generally distinct from government and commercial for-profit actors. Civil society includes charities, development NGOs, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, social movements, coalitions and advocacy groups’


We are embedded in Wester Hailes, care deeply about our participants, team, volunteers and our membership and the community we serve in Wester Hailes and beyond. We decided to take a series of measures to protect our community and our staff. The first approach we have took was pause all groups, close the building to the public, but to try to retain and expand on some of our core and essential services which we could provide remotely.

On Day 1 (waaay back in the distant past on Tuesday 17 March) I worked with my team on a rapid communications plan, we created a couple of trackers for funders and freelance artists communicated the changes. The team also contacted all participants in our groups — slightly more complex as a number do not use email or social media.

Our programme is varied. We have a range of art groups for adults and children. Creativity is the thread that runs through everything that we do however not all our activities are ‘art’ classes. We have a busy community meal each Friday where we serve at least 60 delicious hot meals to local residents, local workers and sometimes external people we invite along — we find it’s one of the best moments in the week to show what we do best — creating opportunities for people to be together, talking, laughing, socialising. We also have a lovely community garden and a group of volunteer gardeners who meet at WHALE each Friday working on building, planting, growing, and eating at the community meal.

Of course the majority of our groups are arts focused — art making and cooking group for women, mens making group, textiles classes, social dancing, digital skills, business group for mums, creative activities for young people with additional support needs, art for young people every Thursday evening outside and across Wester Hailes, film club, after school art club, Indian dance class, writing group, and more! But all rely on people being together in a room or an outside space.


We worked quickly with our team of freelance artists to develop a range of creative tutorials, fun ideas and exercise challenges for people of all ages to do at home. This is a growing resource which lives on our website, and is shared each week on our social media channels.


We were also concerned that — like all of us — families and individuals will struggle with the effects of lockdown, possible increased financial pressures, likely limited access to resources and increased pressure on mental health and family relationships. Isolated individuals without family or support networks feel lonely and disconnected from the community and postal art packs are a way of staying connected.

As part of our response to these challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic we wanted to deliver immediate support and decided to give all our existing supplies and resources directly to the community so created packs of materials participants could use at home that were distributed in the first fortnight the building closed and we weren’t able to offer face to face services in our regular classes and groups.

Following this initial process, we have developed what we are offering and are buying in materials and resources to fill the packs. We have created tailored art packs for early years, children, teens, adults and are working on wellbeing packs for adults. We are taking referrals from our partners, South West social work team and directly from the community.

Art packs help to increase wellbeing, give a creative outlet and support home learning. We know that some families struggle with necessities and may not be a position to prioritise purchasing paper or pens and more, the tools that help learning and creativity and give young people a focus whilst at home. Creativity supports positive mental health, skills development and problem solving as well as a welcome and necessary break from excessive screen time.

In addition to art materials, the packs contain welcome letters to let participants know we are thinking of them and signposting to other local services, mental health/ wellbeing resources, crisis contact services and a range of relaxing activities to reduce stress and anxiety.

Since 18 March over 5,000 individual items and 100 packs have been delivered in Wester Hailes.

Because a number of our adult participants are not digitally connected we are also developing some postal art activities and we are also thinking of some creative and fun ways to keep people connected over the next few weeks, using a range of platforms, some in small groups and some on a one-to-one basis taking into consideration that for many of our participants the ability to connect and communicate digitally and remotely cannot be taken for granted.


Under ordinary circumstances our Friday Community Meal each week is attended by around 60 people who join to share delicious hot meal. Our Community Meal Chef works with a group of local volunteers to prepare the meal. It is a key social occasion for the residents who attend and until Covid-19 hit we had seen numbers increasing steadily each week.

When we realised we had to close the building to the public one of our our first responses was to retain food provision and adapt the Community Meal to a Community Takeaway. For the first 2 weeks we had between 25–30 hot meals collected. We set up a social distancing queueing system and we had no issues with congregations of people — we encouraged people to come by WHALE on their daily walk and collect a hot meal on the way. The food is cooked by our Community Meal Chef Paul and packaged up for locals to takeaway and eat at home and is served out a side door at WHALE by staff and volunteers between 1pm — 2pm every Friday.

As we started to talk to the participants in our groups, those coming to collect a meal, and we continued to connect with our peer organisations locally we realised that we had to adapt again to provide a hot meal delivery service. Through asking for support and guidance from other local organisations and working in collaboration with others we started a meal delivery service on Friday 3rd April. This is coordinated by WHALE Arts staff with support from SCOREscotland staff and a small group of very kind volunteers— these include John from Business Fives and Jonny from Edinburgh Tool Library who are our delivery drivers and have turned up every Friday to deliver hot food.

On Friday 25 April we 120 hot meals went direct to families and individuals’, around 30 of these meals were collected as takeaway and the rest delivered to homes through our small network of volunteer drivers. The demand and need is growing and we are now looking what our capacity is and working with other local parters to ensure we can cook and deliver as much food as possible across the week. With local authority community centres closed we are one of few buildings with kitchens able to cook and distribute hot food in Wester Hailes.

The Community Fridge at WHALE Arts which is managed by Jolly Oluka and her team at SCOREscotland has continued to operate. At the start of the crisis this was a pick-up service and has moved to a delivery twice a week. We continue to work closely with SCOREscotland and The Health Agency to identity and get provisions out to families. Prospect Community Housing have provided a van and two drivers and this is being used by a range of local organisations who are distributing food packs, essential items, art packs, and hot food.


My team have all been absolutely amazing — kind, creative, collaborative, looking out for our community, each other. I already knew they were wonderful, but honestly I continue to be inspired by them every day!

Mega shout out to the consistently super duper core staff team— Kate, Kirsty, Craig, Rebecca, Michael, Laura T, Laura D, Fabien, Jill, Dawn, Susan, Paul — 🙂 🙂 🙂

We have taken the decision not to furlough. We have developed a system (as far as is possible with a small team) to work in two teams in the building. Some of the team are working fully from home. Our approach currently is that due to local need we will continue to redeploy staff into the above activities for as long as possible.

We are keeping our regular freelance artists and support workers in paid roles until at least the end of their contracts. Our freelance team are playing a hugely important role at WHALE just now — creating online creative lessons, helping with art packs posted to people, and helping us with Friendship Calls / check-ins (below).

We will continue to work with them to develop new, interesting, accessible and creative ways to reach and engage with our community.


Not long after 18 April we started a tracker which is checked every day by staff. As a team we call, text or email people to check-in, ask how they are, have a chat, and find out if we can help in any way. As more services appear locally and across Edinburgh we are now referring and sign-posting people into other services.


We launched a Referral Form when we reached the point where we felt confident we could expand beyond the people in our network — as well as a growing need for food, we have seen a huge increase in requests for art packs.


We have had growing concerns about digital exclusion of vulnerable people who were already struggling with IT. Through an existing digital skills project in partnership with Prospect Community Housing, SCOREscotland, and CHAI — Wester Hailes Connects — we support vulnerable and digitally excluded people in Wester Hailes. This work usually happens in small group IT drop-in sessions. This project has been adapted to looking at how we can remotely support people to connect to the myriad of social events which have moved online, when many do not have a suitable device to work from.

We have worked with Prospect Housing to purchase laptops for voluntary groups in Wester Hailes — to enable them to join in digitally.

We have also, with Prospect Housing and SCOREscotland identified 10 individuals and families who would benefit from a device to be able to make video calls from (likely an ipad or tablet) and we have sourced a fund to access these (through our current funder JP Morgan via Good Things Foundation). We will be providing remote support for these individuals in setting up and using the devices.

This is an area in which we believe demand will grow over the coming weeks and in which we feel we have the skills to support people. We have recently added Digital Needs into our Support Tracker.


As a community embedded and building based organisation generating income through our building we have the added challenge of loss of enterprise income We have spent years building up the income we earn through our building to a point where around £58,000 of our income in 19/20 was from room bookings, office rentals and our co-working space desk rentals. As soon as we closed the building all room bookings were cancelled. We are projecting that we will lose the ability to earn £3505 per month for as long as we are closed. This is an ongoing challenge for us. We still need to pay for all our building overheads as we are open to continue to provide the services outlined above. Until this point we have not furloughed staff to enable us to continue to provide services.

We have achieved gradually over the last few years what most third sector organisations and arts organisations have been told to strive for — a diverse and sustainable income mix with some income from enterprise activity.

We are beginning to plug some of this loss of income through support from funders however this will likely continue to be a challenge over the medium to long term, especially since it’s difficult to know in which month we can realistically project earned income to start again.


The response from all of our current funders has been outstanding — kindness, trust and flexibility across the board.

A special thanks to the team at The William Grant Foundation and the local Edinburgh team at The National Lottery Community Fund.

I’d like to write more about our relationship with funders and some of the conversations and confusions I have had over the last few weeks.

Hoping we can carry forward lots of how funders are adapting into the new future…


Right at the start of the crisis we met together (one of the last physical meetings we had in an actual room!) with The Health Agency, Edible Estates, About Youth, SCOREscotland, Calders Residents Association, Prospect Community Housing, Holy Trinity Church, The Dove Centre, and many others.

With a strong history of working very well together in Wester Hailes through Living Well Wester Hailes — coming together over Covid-19 planning was. a fairly natural step. We quickly created a Slack Workspace which has been allowed us to be responsive and have conversations and to make this happen quickly and in a more rounded way that usual (this would ordinarily be a meeting in a room with whoever could make it that day, followed by a group email thread or one-to-one conversations).

Organisations with paid staff and connecting up with the local churches and voluntary groups in a way we never have before. We are all very excited about using this way of communicating dynamically into the future beyond this crisis.


Bridie Ashrowan CEO at Space in Broomhouse (amazing leader / amazing team and org) showed early leadership in response to Covid-19 and convened another of the last meeting in an actual room (!) we had and brought me into a kernel of an idea (we co-chair the South West Edinburgh Voluntary Sector Forum) which has become Go Beyond.

Go Beyond — is a distributed network of people and organisations across South West Edinburgh coordinating a collaborative and collective leadership response to the Covid-19 crisis.

We also created a Slack Workspace for Go Beyond (and yes, I am dealing with slack workspace overload / confusion!).

A small leadership group meets 3 times a week comprising me, Bridie Ashrowan from Space Broomhouse Hub, Kate Barrett from EVOC and Craig Wilson from Big Hearts. The development of the network has been supported by Ally Hunter from Be More Human. Our goal is to share learning across SW Edinburgh, looking at gaps in provision, sharing ideas and resources.

We think that working in this way will revolutionise meetings such as the Voluntary Sector Forum — we are working in a dynamic responsive way — in a way we never have managed to before.


As part of Go Beyond, my colleague at WHALE Kirsty led on the creation of a Food Map for South West Edinburgh — we have created this is close collaboration with Broomhouse Hub, Edible Estates, The Health Agency and others. Craig from WHALE and The Digital Sentinel is overseeing this for SW Edinburgh. We are excited about how this could be used as a community resource beyond the end of this crisis.


More of the same — being creative, adaptable, flexible, collaborative. Honing our adapted services. Making sure we have plugged our earned income losses as much as possible. Making sure that we can ‘keep the lights on’ in our amazing community hub and that we are still here not just in 3 months time but in 12 months, 2 years, 5 years and beyond.

And continuing to use our skills in creativity and kindness to support each other remotely until we can meet again in person…

Leah Black is Chief Executive of Whale Arts; Warden of Incorporation of Goldsmiths of City of Edinburgh.

RSSE Graduation 19/20 & Community Sports Hubs (CSH) VS COVID19

RSSE Graduation 19/20 & Community Sports Hubs (CSH) VS COVID19

This week, Active Schools Coordinators Tammy Johnston and David Rose reflect on the ways in which the COVID 19 pandemic has impacted on their work and, on the experiences of the young people they work with. Active Schools is a government initative funded by sportscotland and managed by Local Authorities.

Our Renfrewshire School of Sport Education (RSSE) programme is Renfrewshire Leisure’s Active Schools coaching programme. 75 pupils from across all of the local high schools are selected annually to complete this 25 week programme across three different centres. Upon completion of the course we host a grand graduation whereby we showcase the hard work and dedication of these young people. This formal event is one of the highlights of the working calendar for all the coordinators. It’s a chance to show our 75 young people how much we appreciate them, how proud we are of them and show them off to our chief executives, local MPs and SportScotland representatives. Everyone gets dressed up to the nines to come together in celebration of our young and future stars. Last years event was beautiful, hosted in the architectural, historical phenomenon that is Paisley Abbey. This motivated us to make the graduation for our 2019/20 students even better. Then along came coronavirus.

One thing we always teach our RSSE students is to have the ability to adapt to any circumstance. I must commend the youth of 2020. This uncertainty and fear are not something you should have to experience, but from the bottom of my heart I want to express my gratitude and pride for how each and every one of you have taken this in your stride. You adapted.

All the students in the course inspire the coordinators in different ways and it is the sense of loyalty to them that hurt us coordinators to not be able to give them all the send-off they deserve. A quick powwow and it was decided we weren’t going to let COVID19 take anything more from them. It’s taken their exams, leavers days, proms etc but it wasn’t taking their RSSE graduation. So again, we got ourselves scrubbed up and instead of making our way to a prestigious event, I walked the two steps from the sofa to the desk, opened my laptop and video called my centre. The same was replicated across the other two centres with all our students getting the graduation they were promised and deserved. We pulled together video montages of their journeys on the course, spoke of fond memories and celebrated them. The RSSE Graduates of 2019/20.

The circumstances and situation have changed, but my message to the graduates remains the same. There are three types of people in this world, the people that make something happen, the people that watch something happen, and the people that have no clue it happened. Which person will you be?

In Renfrewshire we work with over 55 clubs in our 5 Community Sports Hubs. The hubs are; Johnstone Linwood & Gryffe, Renfrew & Gallowhill, Paisley West, Paisley East, and Park Mains Community Sports Hub. The objective of our Hubs is to provide opportunities to the community by bring clubs together from a variety of sports to promote the positive impact sport has on a person’s life. This is done through working with Sports Services, National Governing Bodies, Schools and the community to identify the needs and provide taster sessions to pupils in school time.

As like everyone our CSH are facing difficult times and having to adapt to the service they provide. The clubs need to continue to support their members and keep engaging with their communities to provide opportunities. This has led to clubs being creative and inventive with their ideas to keep in touch with their communities.

A lot of the clubs have come forward with support to the local community such as Bishopton Rugby Club that are offering a door to door service to vulnerable people in their community. Also, Erskine badminton club took to social media to share their stay safe video and at home workouts. Other clubs in the hubs have taken to using various online platforms to keep engaged with their members such as e-sailing by Castle Semple sailing club, online quizzes based on Judo holds by Genki Judo club, Zoom sessions delivered to members by the UKTC and also Renfrewshire Trampoling Club. The Paisley Barbell Club has allowed members to take club equipment home so they can continue to train at home, also offering check in sessions via Zoom and coaches posting workouts online.

As part of our partnership working with Sports Services and the CSH we have created various opportunities through Twitter and Facebook to challenge the local community. There have been clubs such as St Peter’s Netball Club and Basketball Paisley taking part in these challenges. Furthermore there is now a number of clubs supporting the Active Schools programme through online coaching sessions. These are able to be accessed by all Renfrewshire schools pupils and through working with Active Schools have created opportunities to learn new skills such as football, karate, tae kwon do and basketball.

As the situation continues to develop it is great that our clubs maintain their involvement in the community. Everything they are doing is offering support and it is great to see our Community Sports Hubs working hard to bring opportunities and also provide different types of support in these challenging times.



Tammy Johnston is the Active Schools and Community Club Development Officer for Park Mains High School and Bargarran, Barsail and Rashielea Primary, her work ensures that there are sporting opportunities – through participation, competion or volunteering – for all.

David Rose is the Active Schools and Community Club Development Officer for the St Andrew’s Cluster with St Andrew’s Academy, St Fergus, St Paul’s and St Peters Primary school. He also works with the Paisley West Community Sport Hub.

Being Neither Productive or ‘Non-Productive’

Being Neither Productive or ‘Non-Productive’

As I write we’re entering our fifth week of lockdown and I am currently reorienting the ‘who with’ and ‘how with’ part of my PhD. In the meantime, the feedback between theory and practice will have to be through applying a conceptual perspective to my own life. This perspective comes from the concept of communities of practice1 and its descriptions of how meaning, identity and belonging are formed. This view is applied to analysing how the process of participating in arts and culture can create and maintain health. During this lockdown there has been a proliferation of examples, from the sourdough craze to the rise of crochet and neighbourhood singing. Maybe this is the opportunity for me to make kimchi, explore my many neglected cookbooks and finally knit stylish, cosy jumpers for my dogs. I can bring my conceptual framework to life through the practice of conceptualising participation as learning with others, such as online forums to share experiences or blogs to learn techniques. I can reflect on whether this participation can both maintain my mental and physical health and write my research equivalent of King Lear.

None of these things have happened. My focus and productivity are sporadic. I haven’t even binged a TV show, let alone been actively creative. There are plenty of resources that say this is to be expected and, help to soothe the debilitating feeling that now is the time for productivity and creativity whether personally or professionally. Some are aimed at PhD students and shared through communities.2 My conceptual perspective identifies non-productivity itself as a practice, through this mutual engagement, shared repertoire and joint enterprise of staying well through the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, we will take each day as it comes, celebrate the small wins, and learn how to walk through The Valley of Deep (COVID) Shit3. There’s the repeated line ‘you are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.’ A reminder that you’re juggling responsibilities, new roles, ways of working and worries.

Since I don’t have any distractions at home, no juggling act, care work or adjustment to online working, I don’t feel I belong to the community of non-productivity. My conceptual framework states that the concepts of practice and identity are profoundly connected and relate to meaning and belonging. Without either a productive or non-productive practice, it is predictable that my identity as a PhD student is evaporating, as are my other practices and identities, which are all now curtailed by lockdown. How do I start to take the suggested small steps back into the practice of being a PhD student or even being a participant in everyday life and recover a sense of self?

At this point, my application of my conceptual perspective falters. However, it does provide an emphasis on an individual’s knowledge and experience.  I’m familiar with the ongoing process of acknowledging the validity of your own challenges and not minimising your feelings. I have learnt to not compare my experiences to a pregnant woman, crossing the pirate-filled Gulf of Thailand in a wee boat to a future of either being trapped with a new born in a refugee camp or an as yet unknown life in a uncontemplated country. I can apply this knowledge in order to try not to compare myself to those who seem to be negotiating productivity and non-productivity. I’ve been working on the task of leaving my feelings out there, to not dismiss them as trivial compared to what other people must being going through. I find it helps to let emotions breathe and take form, in order to provide the shape of something to acknowledge, to help voice ‘I’m not fine’ to something and, hopefully, someone. I’ve found honesty with yourself helps meaningful connections grow, and if you’re lucky, one of those productive people might leave baked goods on your doorstep and help you find a practice.4 This process has taken me to a place where I can start to act on the advice of setting achievable goals,5 enjoy moments rather than activities6 and so create the conditions for taking those small steps back into PhD practice and myself.

Resulting Sketch of Dog



1Etienne Wenger (1998), Communities of Practice – Learning, Meaning and Identity



4 Pistachio and rosewater cookies. Unexpectedly my practice seems to be organising fitness workouts based around mathematical sequences. There is even a process of reification, where form is given to experience and objects articulating the experience are created, as I have been given a logo. Reification and participation are a duality that constitute the concept of negotiating meaning that is the basis of practice and identity. Maybe my conceptual framework is coming to life, as I seem to be forming an identity as an unqualified fitness organiser.

5 I might not have made kimchi but I have finally made the most basic form of pickles.  I’m now making up for all the years of missing the flavour and texture combination of the world’s finest sandwich, Bánh mì.

6 It’s not a stylish dog jumper, it’s a moment. I haven’t used these pencils since I purchased them last year. I’m finally acting on the celebrating small wins!