Covid-19 has given us the chance to re-evaluate how our society works for us
The last nine months have been unquestionably hard for our local communities. We have all felt the pinch of the restrictions that have been in place to help manage the devastating impact of Covid-19. Lots of us have lost loved ones, jobs or livelihoods, whilst others have been working tirelessly to protect and support us and our families.
In a year that has been unprecedented, it is important to look for the positives, however small they may appear whilst we’re still in the midst of things. Covid-19 has given us the chance to re-evaluate how our society works for us. Whether we take this chance or not only time will tell, but at the least we can take stock, and at best think again about how we organise our society and our economy.
From banks that double up as churches to pop up supermarkets in hospitals, many industries have adapted to ensure those that need basic resources and financial support have access as and when they need it.
So, what are the biggest changes that have come into effect since the Covid-19 restrictions?
An adapting economy
The pandemic has already seen casualties in several areas. Sectors such as retail, aviation and hospitality have been some of the worst affected since March 2020.
Within retail, questions are being asked about whether pop-up shops are the future of the high street. Tesco opened a pop-up branch at the Nightingale Hospital in April to help frontline workers access food supplies, whereas Costcutter similarly opened 20 pop-up stores in hospitals for the same purpose. Meredith O’Shaughnessy, Brand Strategist at Meredith Collective said: “pop-ups are the place for retailers to make mistakes, learn, evolve and test”.
Different questions are being asked about why major supermarket chains have taken so long to return the huge benefits they took from business rate cuts when they’ve been open throughout the pandemic. In some cases, they have paid out huge dividends in the last year, even whilst the public finances will take years to recover.
When it comes to banking, 78% of banks said they had “proven more agile than previously thought,” with 72% saying they “have grown more innovative in 2020.” Banks will increase their spending on technology and automation as more consumers move online. This suggests that Covid-19 has accelerated change that was already progressing pre-pandemic.
The rise of community based projects
We are beginning to see more community based projects take the lead as businesses and people look to help one another throughout the crisis. There has been a rise in community food growing, providing food banks with organic produce.
In Bristol, Staple Hill, a community based charity run by a voluntary management committee began their food parcel helpline for those who were struggling to access basic food supplies. Earlier this year, the Barton Hill Settlement, offered a range of services, including telephone befriending to virtual storytelling.
In broader areas, pubs in urban and semi-rural areas have struggled with reduced trade. The Plunkett Foundation has a community Pub Business Support Programme that helps residents to take ownership of their local pub and run it for the benefit of the community. Their MTAP programme has provided small grants to around half of the community pubs in England, providing a lifeline to many establishments.
The rise in community-based projects in Bristol and across the UK shows how many people want to support the local economy to help communities to thrive.
The changing environment of banks
The pandemic has taught us that we need to develop more resilient financial processes to turn adversity into opportunity. From March to June 2020, up to 15.7% of all UK physical and mobile branches and 11.7% of ATM sites were closed, however, the number of people who lost access to all sources of cash within 3 miles of their home remained below 0.1% throughout the lockdown.
This year has seen more people using credit and debit cards during transactions. Many businesses implemented card only rules to prevent the risk of infection between customers and employees, with the contactless limit being raised from £30 per transaction to £45. As we slowly move towards becoming a cashless society, we must realise that many people are still dependent on it.
In September, the BBC reported that churches could double up as banks in cash stricken areas after a Methodist church tested drop-and-go deposit points for small firms. The report states that 8 million people rely on notes and coins, with many not comfortable with digitised methods and others not having access to digital banking.
As we prepare for a tough winter, at Bristol Credit Union, we provide members with ethical savings and loans with money recirculating back into the local economy. Our branch is available for those who require access to physical transactions and we’re able to provide cash to help our communities thrive.
Helping to build resilience
Bristol Credit Union is locally owned and accountable on a sufficient scale to do something meaningful. We’ve taken on three new Member Support Team Members to assist members with their loan repayments, building a whole new team to help them deal with the financial impacts of Covid. In March, we introduced interest-free loans for NHS workers to help them access essential items throughout the pandemic.
Our new digital platform has just been launched, which revolutionises how alternative finance is accessed, allowing users to efficiently manage their loans, make extra payments, top up their balance, make payment holidays and transfer requests.
We now have around 20 local businesses on our Employer Partnership Scheme, providing their employees with access to ethical borrowing and savings, with the possibility for discounted loan rates and exclusive loan products. Companies on the scheme include Better Food, Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, Sustrans and plenty more.
At this time of continued change and upheaval, we are conscious of the need to continuously reflect and reassess where we are collectively headed. The climate change emergency and the economic fall-out from the pandemic are just two of the major challenges facing our members and our communities. We stand ready to do what we can to work towards those new ways of co-operating and working together and this will be a major part of our future approach.
If you would like to contact a member of the team, please send us an email or give us a call on 0117 924 7309. To find out more, you can subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.