Community Links co-founder, David Robinson, describes Early Action, one of our guiding principles, as:

“building a fence at the top of the cliff… rather than running an ambulance at the bottom.”

In recent weeks and months, the coronavirus pandemic has well and truly smashed through the fence, at high-speed, and with great force. What we are left with at the bottom of the cliff is not looking good. We face the possibility of a recession greater than the one in 2008-09 with the spectre of mass unemployment, even greater inequality, homelessness, and deprivation to further undermine our communities.

On 1 May, the Financial Times referenced a study that named Newham as one of the areas in the UK worst-hit by the virus, with standardised death rates in the borough being recorded as up to four times the national average. According to the study:

COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting Newham, where deaths were recorded at 144 per 100,000 people, the “highest rate in the country”.

Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, described the borough as “the most diverse in the UK, with 78 per cent of the population from ethnic minorities.” It is also “the poorest in London, with 48 per cent living in poverty after rent and household income are taken into account.” The pre-existing inequality in Newham, in the context of the virus, is translating to devastation.

Our mission to build Ready for Everything Communities – groups of people who support each other to overcome problems, prevent them from reoccurring, and to help each other thrive and achieve their goals – is being challenged.

Like most other third-sector organisations in the UK, Community Links is responding in the here and now. Pivoting service-delivery and repurposing funding into emergency-responses to deal with the socio-economic symptoms caused by the pandemic. This is vital and much needed work, made more challenging as many charities face an existential crisis given threats to income.

Community Links was founded over 40 years ago with the aim of finding new solutions to old problems and delivering them with the whole community as partners, not recipients. Most of our programmes focus on tackling the deep-seated causes of societal challenges over the medium to longer-term. We build capacity in our local communities through peer-mentoring, tackling health inequalities, skills development, and raising aspirations. We support young people, socially-isolated people, and those facing multiple disadvantages which may have been passed down through generations, among others.

In order to deal with entrenched, longer-term problems, we believe that we must respond with the long-term view always in mind.

Coronavirus has shaken the foundations of normality. Although we do not know when, we must remember that this too shall pass. But the root causes of societal inequality – lack of skills, training, role-models, education and gainful employment – will remain. In fact, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to make them even more entrenched and seemingly intractable.

We will continue to serve our communities tackling causes not just symptoms and will not lose sight of the long-term view which is at the very core of Early Action. In the meantime, we continue to provide many of our services remotely during the COVID-19 outbreak, and in these times of need our mission to build Ready for Everything Communities remains more important than ever.

If you would like to find out more about what Early Action is and how Community Links engages with it, you can sign-up to our quarterly Early Action bulletin to keep updated with our latest news, events, good practice, and case studies.