Our response to the pandemic has been to absorb, and adapt – but might there now be an opportunity to transform?

silver lining

“Just doing what we can, where we are, with the people we are connected with”

Thank you to our blog readers for sharing your experiences of lockdown with us. What a rich narrative we received! More than 30 of you responded, from a variety of fields; NHS (frontline and management), voluntary and social enterprise sector, Local Authorities, housing, psychologists, coaches and more. We expected stories illustrating how different things are under lockdown, but hadn’t anticipated so many silver linings. We wanted to see if there was a common thread, or threads, what we could learn from, and how we can build on the positives in our future (personal and professional) lives, ‘post-pandemic’? We weren’t sure how to do this in a logical and readable way without adding our own bias. We feel incredibly lucky that our colleague Caroline Lee, senior researcher at the University of Cambridge, accepted our invitation to help. She joins us as guest author, with an interest in collaborative and community-based approaches to health and wellbeing.

Charlotte (@ckkirin) & Wendy (@wendylansdown)

Our response to the pandemic has been to absorb, and adapt – but might there now be an opportunity to transform?

Guest Blog by Caroline Lee, Senior Research Associate, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Cambridge Institute of Public Health

find Caroline on Twitter @cazzerlee

When Charlotte and Wendy put out the call, the country was reeling from the immediate shock of being told to stay home, stay safe, protect the NHS. What did this mean for our work, kids, partner, family members? The vast majority of those of you who responded were clearly still working during this time, so there were reports of disruptions to working patterns, locations, workload, priorities, emergency procedures, uncertainties over need and availability of PPE etc. As time went on, though, you settled into new routines. What you found different, positive, and worth keeping offers insight for developing caring communities…

Ingredients for Caring (Covid-19) Communities?

In developing caring places, we need to acknowledge that we are operating with multiple identities – as workers and professionals – but also as individuals, family members, carers, neighbours, friends, and sometimes also as patients, and people who need help and support. Your stories were both ones of personal and professional adaptation. A mix of emotions were being felt – often simultaneously – togetherness, relief, recognition and gratitude (especially for key workers), alongside fear and, sometimes, resentment (of those with time off in their gardens).

Personal resilience

There were observations around coping, and ideas perhaps linked to personal ‘resilience’, such as being aware of and accepting these mixed emotions, embracing uncertainty, alongside greater appreciation of the ‘little things’ and what we have got (a job, a home with a garden, someone else to share your household). We noticed other people and our surroundings, and we appreciated nature, birdsong, quiet, a simpler and slower pace of life.

Many positive thoughts about ‘community’ were expressed, and you reflected on the importance of relationships, and reciprocity. There was a feeling of being ‘all in it together’. Community spirit was out in spades, aided perhaps by the fact that we had more time for our own communities. With less or no time spent commuting, we were more available to our families too, resulting in a better work-life balance. Did this contribute to an ability to absorb the shock, and adapt our responses?

Professional resilience

On a professional level, a sense of community was equally important, it seems. Investment in building team spirit was essential, and there were interesting reflections that when physical meetings were replaced with on-line, stronger relationships resulted from colleagues really ‘seeing’ and getting to know each other for the first time. New work patterns were not universally welcomed, though, and some reflected that online meetings are hard, while resentment could build where a lack of equity (in workload) was perceived.

Adaptations to work practices followed including, but not limited to, the opportunities of ‘digital’. Significant wins were recorded from a ‘can do’ approach and attitude, translating to faster decision making, better prioritisation, and overcoming organisational barriers.

“… Covid makes people much more focussed. This was the shortest meeting of this group ever! We need to retain this sense of focus … and not return to our previous rambling discussions.”

“Released from shackles of procedures, people work together towards solutions”

“Good to just do what feels right”

Negative side-effects?

While positivity was much more evident, there were observations too of the flip side to agility and responsiveness. These included: panic, anger, blame as well as ‘holding on’ to power and hierarchy. Similarly, warnings were also there to be careful and not allow a ‘rescue’ culture to develop, undermining a person-centred approach.

Unpacking the learning and moving forward

Some of the themes above speak to concepts of wellbeing, social capital, and resilience. When we talk about resilience, we often think about the ability to respond positively to shocks. It seems that the aspects highlighted above were key to our ability to absorb this particular shock – Covid-19 -, as well as to successfully adapt our responses – both personal and professional.

If resilience is what we need, how do we build it while avoiding negative responses? Understandably we see it is easier to commit to change at home than change at work. There were several ‘notes to self’ to look after our own health and wellbeing, to: slow down; reflect; be present; connect more; and take more exercise. Concurrently, we aspire to looking after the environment including reducing our car use. In our professional capacities, though, our thoughts are more ‘aspirational’ – recognising and reflecting on a need to act collectively within and across organisations.

“Will we take time to pause, notice, and learn? Not rush in, solve & put back – but take this chance to reset?”

“We need to be purposeful about the future we create – not just back to business as usual”

“… feels exciting because I can see so much about HOW we do things that shouldn’t return to pre-Covid normal as well as WHAT we do.”

What might a ‘reset’, rather than a ‘return’ (to normality) look like? In the reflections, there were strong feelings about what needs to happen, and what has supported us in supporting others. Good communication is vital, as are networks and infrastructure, to underpin our readiness to respond and mobilise. Encouragingly, it looks like people are already involved in localities where some of the right ingredients are in place. Capacity to mobilise also requires a broader understanding of influences on people’s health – “health is created more by people in communities than by hospitals”. There is a plea for ‘systems, not silo thinking’, joint working, recognition and sharing of assets and resources across communities and organisations.


In a pre-Covid world, the ‘Caring places’ conference intended to pose a number of questions for discussion, including: How can public sector support community development? How can regulation and innovation go hand in hand? How can organisations support frontline staff to self-manage? All of these have been highly pertinent in our response to Covid-19, as shown by comments about: shedding bureaucracy and a ‘can do’ approach; working with local groups, not rushing in on a rescue mission; and the importance of communication and regularly ‘checking in’ with colleagues.

Can we use this experience to push for more transformative change, and ways of living and working that will improve our capacity to respond ‘next time’. Ways that build on what we have now, and support sustainability in the system? Has the shock of Covid-19 created a space and readiness for transformation? We’d like to think that it has.

As one respondent put it: “Having a shared purpose can move mountains”


Post-script: Please continue the conversation with us as we build on what we think we knew, and what we have learned since. If our blogs resonate with you and you would be interested in writing a guest blog, just get in touch – wendy.lansdown@cambridgeshire.gov.uk



One thought on “Our response to the pandemic has been to absorb, and adapt – but might there now be an opportunity to transform?

  1. Wow, this is a good blog post. Keep up the good work!
    If we want to we can always find a way to use experiences to build something better. We have learned and I hope that we will use this to create a better world.
    I would be very happy if you could take a moment to visit my blog and maybe leave a positive comment.
    Have a great day!


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