Local is the new global

18 February 2021 Written by Ewan Aitken

This article first appeared in TFN magazine's February 2021 edition.

One of the big learnings from the pandemic is how the local is as fundamental to our lives together as the global. It’s been great for example to see folk we support in our recovery groups connect with support groups across the globe but when they have needed support like food or advice with benefits, local, safe accessible support has been crucial. An invitation popped into my inbox last week from a corporate supporter inviting me to a business development webinar title “local is the new global”. Business knows that for all the online behemoths which dominate our lives and track our every movement, it is the local where we find the deep connection we all seek as human beings. When we talk about #BuildBackBetter – though I prefer the less alliterative but think more accurate #BuildForwardBetter - we are talking about building local. All the evidence suggests what folk need in a crisis needs to be available in walking distance if at all possible, from someone they know or know of and in settings which welcome and do not stigmatise. Even when it’s about new national systems or delivery, to be truly person-centred, which we know is what works best, is to be as local as we can.

We also know from this pandemic just how fragile many peoples’ lives are. Whilst it’s not true to say everyone is only two paycheques from homelessness, there are an increasing number who are a short distance from tipping into poverty, with all the consequential challenges and dangers this brings, not just financial and material but social and emotional. My colleagues in our food production team made over 80,000 meals freezer ready between April and July for distribution across Edinburgh, the Lothians and beyond. Time and time again heard the words “I never thought I would need this kind of help”. These were words of gratitude but also of struggle and even shame.

But we know it will happen to more and more people. The furlough scheme has saved many businesses and livelihoods but it is a dam which will explode when it is over. The 4 million people still on it will not all being going back to work. Youth unemployment is at record levels. We might have a vaccine against Covid which brings a type of hope but Covid’s impact will be way beyond the medical

Creating support which prevents the fragility which is exposed in a crisis has to be a core part of #BuildForwardBetter. This means activity and resources which don’t feel like an intervention nor “something for the poor folk”. Community meals where relationships are built and support comes from peers not just professionals. Community co-ops and pantries where food is available for whoever wants it, not just those who “qualify”. Community gardens where the whole spectrum of health activity, healthy eating and heathy community is grown and nurtured for everyone involved. Community anchor organisations who become the bedrock of the 20-minute community, new and well established. Community businesses which enable work to be much more connected to our common life together.

Localism isn’t about giving every place the same things. It’s about every community having the same chance to decide what they need and how they can access it. Building forward better will happen best one community a time.