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Community spirit at the heart of COVID-19 response

Covid-19 community resilience holds important lessons for community development and planning in Caithness and Sutherland.

Communities coming together

When communities across Caithness and Sutherland, along with the rest of the country, went into lockdown in March 2020, it was with great uncertainty over what the future might bring. However, the communities reacted swiftly and identified anchor organisations (roughly along community council boundary lines) that have been helping people with everything from shopping to digital social activities all throughout the pandemic.

These anchor organisations - development trusts, community councils, local resilience groups, and wellbeing centres - have come in all shapes and sizes. They have all been pivotal during the past 14 months and have proved to be a particularly crucial structure for HIE when it administered and distributed the Scottish Government’s Supporting Communities Fund and Communities Recovery Fund.

Resilience networks were set up in each of the two counties in order to coordinate the activity of the many different anchor organisations as well as to provide an informal space where the groups could support and learn from each other. Likewise, the networks provided a ‘one-stop-shop’ for statutory agencies to receive and share information and ultimately support community-led action. Allan Tait, senior development officer at Caithness Voluntary Group, who has been facilitating the Caithness Resilience Network since the beginning of the first lockdown said: “The way the whole community has come together in the last year has been magnificent.  Whilst the volunteers were out supporting the vulnerable, they had the full backing and help of all the statutory organisations, a range of community groups and local businesses.  It was this partnership working that was so important and the relationships built up will be vital as we move towards recovery”.

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Caithness Case Study 5
The community resilience networks have turned traditional community planning structures on their head. We now have a forum where agencies support community-led activity from the bottom-up, and we need to carry that momentum over into the recovery phase.
Eann Sinclair, Caithness and Sutherland area manager, HIE

Importance of resilience networks

The resilience networks have been key support mechanisms for anchor organisations, who were less confident in adapting to a more intensive role in delivering front line community services, as well as being the critical channels for the acutely needed funding to support these fundamental activities. Marion MacDougall, chair of the Kyle Centre in Tongue and member of the Sutherland Resilience Network said: "Being part of the Sutherland Resilience Group was essential in ensuring North Coast Connection was able to fulfil the organisation's role as an anchor and provide a flexible and effective response to the Covid- 19 situation.

"The expertise and advice from other organisations in the group was invaluable in enabling us to maximise the benefit of the funding we secured which was used to support our community during the special measures introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic”.

Christine Stone, member of both Castletown Resilience Group and Caithness Resilience Network, said: “The value of the Caithness Resilience Group cannot be underestimated. This community led activity has bolstered confidence, provided constant, ongoing support and created an immeasurable sense of cohesion and unity. It’s been a forum for encouragement and the building of relationships and has acted as a springboard for action at ground level.

"In my role as team lead for our local resilience work over the past 15 months, I have been, and remain, utterly thankful and appreciative of the Caithness Resilience Group and for the immense web of planned structure and support which has helped provide so many resources, funding opportunities and initiatives, to the benefit of our community members, throughout our county.”

The community-led nature and organic structure of the resilience networks hold important implications for how community support and community planning should look like, as communities and agencies slowly are shifting their focus from resilience to recovery. Eann Sinclair, HIE’s Caithness & Sutherland area manager, said: “The community response to COVID-19 has been nothing short of fantastic, and it has been great to play a part in this year-long effort.

"The community resilience networks have turned traditional community planning structures on their head. We now have a forum where agencies support community-led activity from the bottom-up, and we need to carry that momentum over into the recovery phase. In fact, the networks, and their associated action groups, are already well-established and will continue to support projects that will ensure and maintain community resilience long term”.

The Caithness Resilience Network was awarded the Community Cohesion Champion Award at the HTSI Awards in February. Supporting Communities Fund and Communities Recovery Fund awards with a total value of £730,071 were distributed to groups in Caithness and Sutherland.

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Resilience Network


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