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Coronavirus, community resilience and the future

Ever since 2006 when a group in Totnes, Devon got together to found the first Transition Town, they and groups like them across the UK (and, indeed, around the world) have been working and preparing for the transition to a low-carbon, more localised society. The aim has been to bridge the gap between national and international policy and individual action, by supporting local initiatives in areas like skill-sharing, community food growing and community-owned renewable energy projects. One of the underlying principles, taken from permaculture, is of slow but steady change in a positive direction.

Now, in the space of a few weeks, the new strain of coronavirus has plunged us into a totally different way of living, from which we have to collectively find our way to whatever the future will look like. This is not the way anyone imagined things happening.

The crisis has made clear how fragile the globalised society we’ve created is. It’s been shocking to see how quickly and suddenly so many of the things we had taken for granted have collapsed or been taken away from us. Many of us will also be feeling a new sense of our own individual vulnerability, and our hearts go out to anyone who has been directly affected by illness or who has lost friends or family members.

At the same time, though, having so much taken away is forcing us (as individuals, as communities and on a larger scale too) to find new ways of doing things. This calls for tremendous creativity and imagination - things that are at the core of the Transition project. It’s perhaps an opportunity to rebuild in a better way; to reconsider which elements of the ‘normal’ we used to have are ones we want to go back to.

Projects like the ones Transition Leytonstone is involved with are very difficult to sustain at a time when we’re unable to get together physically. Now that, for many of us, our social life has moved largely online, we can socialise just as easily with friends and acquaintances from around the country, as we can those who live around the corner. But at the same time there are signs of the strength of the local community - the Mutual Aid groups supporting vulnerable local residents; the feeling of camaraderie as we stand on our doorsteps or in our front windows to clap on a Thursday evening. Some of the Transition Leytonstone projects have been able to adapt quickly to the new circumstances: for example the Community Fridge is now operating as a delivery service of surplus food to households in need. Despite our physical separation from one another, new connections are being made and new friendships forged.

With life stripped back to its bare essentials, many people have been taking the time to learn new skills that will hopefully stand us in good stead in the future - cooking and baking from scratch; gardening and growing food; DIY, sewing and cycling. All of this, once we’re able to meet up and share what we’ve learnt with one another, can only make us stronger and more resilient to whatever comes next.

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