Published: 11 October 2021 at 16:00
Research investigates how the closure of groups and services hit the vulnerable
A hard-hitting research report has revealed the devastating impact on COVID-19 lockdowns on communities due to people being unable to physically attend local groups and services, and recommends additional support for voluntary organisations.
Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) interviewed members and organisers of these community groups and clubs, used by various ages and ethnicities in the north Essex districts of Colchester and Tendring, which includes Harwich and Clacton.
The impact of the removal of these valuable services, described by research participants as “lifelines” is laid bare in the new report, commissioned by North East Essex Health and Wellbeing Alliance with additional funding from local health commissioners, entitled Lessons of Lockdown: Community Asset Members’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The groups featured in the research included a café used by dementia sufferers, a toddler group, a bowls club, a project for military veterans, a support group for refugees, and organisations catering to different ethnic minorities.
Following on from their previous research, where they were able to capture members’ experiences during the first few weeks of lockdown in the spring of 2020, in this latest study researchers interviewed members and leaders by telephone and via online calls between January and June 2021 to find out about their experiences since.
Interviews revealed members of all ages suffering from increased isolation, loneliness and anxiety as a result of the closures. Several members and leaders cited examples of marriage and relationship breakdown, financial hardship, and issues around domestic violence.
Older and vulnerable people and those shielding were particularly hard-hit, with some members and carers experiencing mental breakdown and suicidal thoughts.
The Dementia Café in Tendring, a place for those living with dementia and their carers to socialise and share information, was only able to provide a weekly phone call to members during lockdown.
Carers and leaders reported that those living with dementia were confused about the change, and many saw their condition worsen. One regular attendee, who cares for her husband said:
Some members of the community groups, particularly older people, also had difficulty either accessing or using the technology designed to help people communicate during the pandemic. Younger people, surveyed in the TeenTalk group, often lived in rural areas with poor access to public transport and many felt very isolated.
The TeenTalk group leader said:
The report also details some of the positive initiatives that some of the groups managed to involve members in, despite restrictions. The TeenTalk group provided activity packs containing craft materials and delivered them to more than 300 young people across Tendring.
The Colchester Islamic Community Centre (CICC) distributed food parcels for its members, including a box of chocolates for men and flowers for ladies. The members also formed a sewing group and made PPE items such as face masks that were donated to members and the community.
Dr Oonagh Corrigan, Senior Lecturer at ARU, said:
The report was discussed at the Tackling Inequalities Conference, organised by the North East Essex Health and Wellbeing Alliance and featuring an address by Sir Michael Marmot, this afternoon (11 October 2021).
The full research report can be found here.
The executive summary can be read here.