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The Hope Inquiry: Where the light gets in

The winter of our discontent

As the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the UK heads well past 100,000, it is sometimes hard to recall the spirit of togetherness and even optimism that was present in the Spring of the first lockdown.

It was, of course, also a very difficult time and, for too many, a time of great loss. But there was space, even in the midst of the rapid changes taking place in all of our lives, to see glimmers of hope in some of these changes. People got to know their neighbours and offered each other help, streets were reclaimed for walking and play, the weekly clap brought people together, and key workers were celebrated.

Those of us working in the field of social change could also see positive changes taking place in local organisations and public services. There was greater collaboration across different sectors, with a light shone on the importance of the voluntary sector and mutual aid. Frontline workers gained new permissions to do whatever it took to achieve one shared and binding aim: protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities. One local authority Chief Executive we spoke to at the time described culture change taking place in a matter of weeks that would normally take a decade. Indeed, sentiments like this were commonly expressed. There was still plenty to criticise, especially in decisions made at the national level. But the closer you got to people and communities, the closer you got to reasons for hope.

At Collaborate we focused a lot of our time in those months on understanding and documenting those changes, and exploring how they could be used to sustain longer term transitions in thinking, culture and practice. We published tools and frameworks to help people learn from the changes they were making, and began new work with partners who were already looking forward.

And then as summer became autumn, it felt like a moment had been lost. COVID-19 cases again started to rise, and the reality of a second wave during winter began to crowd out the space for hope and optimism about what could follow the pandemic.

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