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19 May 2020

Researchers to investigate how coronavirus has brought communities together

Researchers to launch a UK-wide survey to capture the positive ways people have responded to the coronavirus crisis.

people stacking hands together in park

Researchers from the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, will be launching a UK-wide survey to capture the positive ways in which people have responded to the coronavirus crisis. By gathering information on how people have helped or been helped by their communities, the researchers hope to generate an evidence base to inform government policies with the potential to foster longer term social and psychological recovery beyond Covid-19.

From neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, to registering for the NHS volunteer programme, to providing food and medication deliveries for those who are shielding, there has been an outpouring of help across the nation during this very difficult time. Lockdown has confined individuals to their local areas, creating opportunities for many people to engage with local organisations and neighbours in creative ways. The researchers will explore whether these engagements are fostering a better sense of community cohesion, and whether this will be sustained beyond the Covid-19 outbreak.

This research will shift the focus from immediate response to better enable policymakers to consider long-term recovery. It will consider the crucial role that positive community engagement plays, not only in supporting official responses, but also in fostering longer term social and psychological recovery. In doing so, the evidence generated will transform the current practice of assessing the negative health and social impacts of a narrow range of government-advised behaviour change (e.g. hand washing, social distancing) to provide a more nuanced understanding of the social impacts of UK Government interventions to the virus.

Led by Professor Brooke Rogers and Dr Julia Pearce, with support from research assistant Ava Hodson, the research is designed to shed light on whether government involvement can strengthen or weaken pro-social behaviours, community cohesion and collectivism. The investigation will explore what motivates people to volunteer, identify the barriers some people face when wanting to offer or ask for help, and explore the extent to which this impacts community cohesion now and in the future.

The findings have the potential to inform government understandings of the wider social and psychological effects of virus response policy via the researchers’ long-standing advisory roles and engagement with local and national Government organisations including the Cabinet Office, Home Office, Government Office for Science, Greater London Authority, and more. Additionally, this project will enhance the work of the NIHR Emergency Preparedness and Response Health Protection Research Unit at King’s College London. The survey will launch next month.

Brooke Rogers said:

“Given the crucial role that positive community engagement plays, not only in supporting official responses, but also in fostering longer term social and psychological recovery, there is a pressing need to extend the current research programme to examine a greater range of public psychological and behavioural responses.

“Identifying answers to these questions will broaden the focus from a purely negative understanding of impacts of the coronavirus crisis on populations. Our work will provide a more nuanced view of the social and psychological impacts of Covid-19 which can be used to support more effective government response and long-term recovery efforts.”

Julia Pearce said:

“The social and behavioural sciences are providing valuable insights to support the Covid-19 pandemic response. Understandably there has been much focus on behavioural change to limit the spread of the disease. However, we are also seeing a large increase in volunteering and other helping behaviours that are supporting individual and community well-being.

“Our research will build on a well-established evidence base which indicates that public demonstrations of pro-social behaviour are the norm, rather than the exception, during extreme events. In so doing we hope to better understand factors that can promote or inhibit helping behaviours and community cohesion.”

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