Living Well with Covid?
How the pandemic continues to exacerbate inequalities
Between June and December 2022, we ran a public health project in Newham (east London) focused on promoting Living Well with Covid. Our motivation to run this project came from the stark need locally to support grassroots organisations, and the communities they serve. Since the start of the pandemic, these organisations have been catching those with the poorest outcomes but with little funding and infrastructure. The channel shift from face-to-face to digital has exacerbated inequalities which we sought to tackle.
Since the outbreak, the majority of service providers have increasingly relied on digital technology to deliver services. As a result, the need for people to become digitally confident has never been more important. All basic services now require some level of digital access e.g. booking GP, registering to vote, refuse collection, council tax billing, parking permits, community assemblies.
This grant enabled us to create and deliver digital literacy sessions focusing on downloading the NHS App. Evidence suggests that many people are digitally excluded and cannot access social and health services. We created a “digital hub” to help people who are most at risk of negative outcomes from health inequalities gain more control over their health and well-being by supporting them to access services online and gain confidence through digital platforms.
We ran digital popups to existing community groups to help residents in the boroughs gain confidence in using their devices.
The project established relationships with local communities and religious organisations, as well as social clubs and cafes. We were able to secure venues and recruit participants for workshops and outreach across the boroughs due to these strong relationships. This allowed us to reach a wide range of people who attended our sessions. We are also collaborating with Living Well with Covid recipient organisations such as Inspire Women, and Mum's Day Out.
What we learnt?
The heart of community development lies in the art of listening. Running a community project offers an opportunity to give back to the community whilst simultaneously listening to where people are at, their challenges, opportunities and the threats. This is gold dust to us and we wanted to share the insights emerging.
Our communities are engaged
Grassroots communities are eager to actively participate in conversations around Covid. Communities are ready to discuss the effects of Covid on their physical and emotional health in safe spaces. People feel increasingly more confident in reflecting and vocalising their experiences. This is good news for User Researchers!
We found the majority of people have adjusted to living with the pandemic and are doing everything they can to live well with COVID-19, including taking steps to be as healthy as possible, including mental and emotional well-being, and doing everything they can to avoid getting or spreading the virus.
Safe spaces in community matter
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of a localised approaches to reach communities most at risk of exclusion. Tapping into existing networks high in social capital, trust and mutuality, promotes agency. Whilst we may think the digital era is the way forward, we caution service designers to consider the impact of excluding the importance of community. Without grassroots provision, how would we have survived the pandemic?
Access to healthcare is at critical point
There were gaps in access before the pandemic, now we have canyons! A system with gaps breeds and exacerbates inequity. If we fail to remedy the gaps in accessing primary care, our cancer rates, chronic disease, mental ill-health and poor child health outcomes will grow exponentially in the next 10 years.
Food for thought...
The rapid channel shift from face to face services to tech based approaches really helps people like you and me. Those of us who are grateful for mobile banking, order our shopping online, top up lunch money via an app and use smart devices throughout our homes. However, there are millions of people, our neighbours and community who just don't have the confidence, knowledge or means. They are at the greatest risk of the poorest outcomes. We have a duty to take them with us.
The world is relational. We are social beings. Let's use for all our benefit by investing in the communities we serve to build a better tomorrow for everyone. Because, healthy communities are good for us all.