28 April 2020
The Apart but not Alone study aims to capture a snapshot of street-level neighbourhood action in response to the COVID-19 lockdown. Researchers from the University of the West of England’s (UWE Bristol) Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing, including the ARC West training team’s Michele Biddle and Abby Sabey, are leading on this rapid research project.
The study will help identify where volunteers and services need to channel their efforts to reach people in need. The team launched an online survey which ran from 6-27 April to identify what neighbour support was already happening in Bristol and the West Country. They have already published initial results as of 12 April, which cover days 14-20 of the UK Government coronavirus restrictions and included 522 responses.
These early findings showed that, despite stay-at-home restrictions, neighbours are connecting with each other through a proliferation of street-level and postcode social media support groups. Human contact remains important, with 88 per cent reporting that talking at a safe social distance with neighbours as a regular activity.
Support extends beyond people at-risk of coronavirus to include a wide range of groups including people living alone, people with mobility issues, financial issues, or child and caring responsibilities, and people living in homes with no outdoor space. Self-organising neighbour groups were reaching out to vulnerable people before formal volunteering had mobilised through voluntary agencies, local authorities and the NHS.
However, there are indications that the negative impacts of lockdown are being experienced more acutely in areas of high social disadvantage. Compared to wealthier areas, people in poorer neighbourhoods were more likely to report they were supporting people with:
Around 80 per cent of those responding to the survey were female, which raises the question of whether the practical and emotional work of supporting neighbours is falling disproportionately onto women.
Michele Biddle, Research Associate in Public Health at UWE Bristol and Research Associate in Training Evaluation and Impact at NIHR ARC West, said:
“Our survey has already shown the strength and flexibility of local communities to come together and support each other in times of need, much more quickly than formal services are able to respond. It paints a positive picture of neighbours coming together to help each other out.
“But the picture for some neighbourhoods – those with greatest deprivation – isn’t so rosy. It’s clear that there is greater need for support in these areas, as people are already more likely to have health issues or not have outdoor space. The lockdown is starkly highlighting the health inequalities already present in our society.”
Alongside the survey, the team are undertaking interviews and planning a follow-on survey in mid-May. Even if you have not taken part in the first survey, you can register an interest to take the follow-on survey.