16/06/2020 - Published by


Time to take the temperature in our communities

Nick Taylor, Peace Foundation Chief Executive calls for urgent work in communities to ‘take the temperature’ and respond with actions to ensure we address the impact of Covid 19.

I was listening to a language course presented by the well-known teacher Michel Thomas.  A pupil asked him why the French word for please had evolved to be a conflation of four different words from a single word in the past (answers on a postcard).  His answer has stuck with me: “people change and language changes with people.”

Modern language is a myriad of changes, the pandemic has added to the language with lockdown, new normal, self-isolating, unprecedented being used constantly.

It is the same in work within communities: hard to reach, the red wall, Workington man, left behind all being used.

Modern society and democracy should surely struggle with having communities that are left behind, but unfortunately we have not been able to address that we broadly experience a society that includes those that ‘have’ and those that ‘have not’ creating an ‘us’ and ‘them.’

Covid 19 attracted some language about us ‘all being in it together’ and ‘all in the same boat.’  Unfortunately, we are not – far from it.  Covid 19 has been a real divider, just take the language – key workers, furlough workers, shielded, vulnerable, heroes – all of it based on identity and division.

It was no surprise that on 22nd April the Guardian newspaper dropped less a pebble into the pond and more a great big boulder when its headline ran – ‘Ethnic minorities dying of Covid-19 at higher rate, analysis shows.’

The analysis found that of 12,593 patients who died in hospital up to 19 April, 19% were Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) even though these groups make up only 15% of the general population in England.  And it revealed that three London boroughs with high BAME populations – Harrow, Brent, and Barnet – were also among the five local authorities with the highest death rates in hospitals and the community.

While it is not yet clear why communities with proportionally higher number of BAME inhabitants appear to be dying at higher rates, one expert on public and ethnic health said that social deprivation was the strongest indicator for mortality due to an increased underlying burden of disease.

Earlier this year, a spin-out research consultancy from the Social Disadvantage Research Centre at the University of Oxford, the Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) produced a report looking at the indicators within ‘left behind areas.’

They concluded that there are notably fewer job opportunities locally when compared against other deprived areas, and high levels of unemployment

This poor performance is reflected in other socio-economic trends, for example ‘Left-behind’ areas are falling behind other deprived areas in terms of achieving reductions in levels of child poverty, with just under one-in-three children in the ‘Left-behind’ areas living in poverty.

There are many people with no formal qualifications, relatively poor health outcomes, a higher proportion of people are engaged in risky health behaviours (smoking, binge drinking, low levels of fruit and vegetable consumption.  They report higher instances of mental health related challenges, high proportions of people receiving DWP benefits due to poor health or caring responsibilities.

In conclusion, the analysis shows that ‘Left-behind’ areas face a range of complex socio-economic challenges and there is some evidence to suggest they are falling further behind other deprived areas, as they lack the community and civic infrastructure to mitigate the impacts of these challenges, and now add in Covid 19.

The Peace Foundation works in a number of communities and delivers a programme of activity we call ‘Community Action for Peace’ – our challenge has been, that lockdown has taken us ‘off the streets’ and out of the ‘community centres’ and in maintaining contact with multiple stakeholders we have watched issues and problems develop, with different people responding to government guidance in different ways, or not following rules. There have been rumours and misinformation.  Some people have felt isolated and anxious – and taking steps out of lockdown may exacerbate these feelings and issues.  Not surprisingly deprived and ‘left behind’ areas have suffered most – the Covid 19 divide is greater than ever.

The societal gaps have widened, and we need to get back to working in the most challenged communities.  We have adapted our approach, producing a blended curriculum of programmes that can be delivered through remote means or by working within guidelines and safely making direct contact.

Read how you can work safely with the Peace Foundation

The urgent need is to ‘take the temperature’ within the most challenged areas and we have developed a quick neighbourhood level diagnostic programme that we are offering to commissioners such as local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners.  I hope that they will commission us to get active in the most challenged and high priority areas so we can ‘take the temperature’ and look at what action is needed to move forward.

How does it work?

Taking soundings: Peace Foundation facilitators talk to a range of people working and living in the local community to identify the issues.

Research and linkages: we will carry out some desk-based research, collating relevant data and connecting issues in your area to wider trends and policy discussions.

Workshop: our half day workshop (run virtually or in a biosecure and safe format) is a chance for agencies to consider our findings and collaborate on identifying key steps to take over the coming weeks and months.

Report: we will provide a written report, bringing together our research findings and the workshop write-up, as a resource for your future work.

What we bring

  • Extra capacity
  • A ‘fresh pair of eyes’
  • Our facilitators are trained and experienced in tension monitoring and ‘conflict mapping’
  • ‘Taking the temperature’ is informed by our ‘Community Action for Peace’ methodology
  • Direct experience of work in response to Covid-19. From the beginning of the emergency, our Warrington Peace Centre has been contracted as an NHS Care Centre, providing accommodation, childcare and other support to NHS acute hospital doctors and children of NHS hospital workers

Contact us to find out more If you’re interested and want to commission the Peace Foundation to work with you in ‘taking the temperature’, please email our communities programme lead: mike.waite@peace-foundation.org.uk or phone us on 07494 308849.

Download our Taking the Temperature leaflet here