Katie Cavanna: Our greatest challenge is to remember what is really important

TW RE4orm volunteers Adam and Tara Steward working on the Food 4 Torbay project

TW RE4orm volunteers Adam and Tara Steward working on the Food 4 Torbay project - Credit: Archant

As we move into the next stage of lockdown, where a variety of restrictions are being lifted, I am consumed by an overwhelming feeling that I do not want things to 'change'.

The idea of going back to our 'normal', no longer seems appealing.

By no means do I want people to have a restricted lifestyle; freedom is important for a variety of reasons.

Yet, this new way of life; a shift in priorities that focuses on a strong sense of community, that is clear for so many to see, I want it to stay.

Before coronavirus shut us in our homes, a month or a million years ago, most of us had uninspiring to-do lists that never really got done.

They prioritised discrete, narrow tasks - a form for school maybe, a deadline at work, food for dinner. They did not typically include getting to know neighbours, making sure local elderly, vulnerable groups had what they needed, or creating a sense of community.

Somewhere between work, kids, house, family, and friends, the idea of caring for those who lived in close proximity and yet were largely strangers to us, became an abstract notion, a virtuous and distant hope but not a pressing priority.

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Coronavirus changed all that.

Our concerns have become local, our networks street-long as well as piped in via technology from around the world.

The hustle of modern life; work, kids, activities, socialising, and travel has been reduced to the unit of the home, the radius of the local park, the local shop.

We are stretched with different needs but also given more time to notice. Many of us see in technicolour the details of a simpler life, of what is essential for survival, including each other.

Kelly Widley Jarrett, from Torbay, who has worked in the hospitality industry for more than 15 years, agrees that a strong community is more evident than ever before.

'Until now, I had thought that community simply meant a group of people coming together,' writes Kelly. 'If there was any doubt that people aren't kind to each other, then hopefully our community has proved the opposite.

'What this pandemic has shown, is that we face difficulties together, we have a collective power that shouldn't be underestimated.'

We see what functioning communities look like, as we start to use the muscles needed to build them.

When our Government appealed recently for 250,000 volunteers to help the National Health Service, more than 750,000 signed up. Every Thursday evening, we join together, in beautiful unison, for the Clap for Carers on our doorsteps and balconies.

Our famous British reserve is absent in these moments: people bang on pots and pans, they hoot and holler, and they linger, looking left and right, smiling kindly at the neighbours for whom they previously had spent little time with.

A recent You Gov survey, commissioned by the Royal Society of Arts, found that only nine per cent of Britons want life to return to 'normal' after the coronavirus outbreak is over; they value food and other essentials now, they have noticed cleaner air outdoors, and 40 per cent of respondents said they feel a stronger sense of community.

I have noticed over the past eight weeks, an ever-increasing amount of people across Torbay, wanting to help their neighbours.

People going out of their way to make a genuine difference. To bring hope to those experiencing difficulty. To me, this is community. I see it every day and I don't want it to fade away, to be forgotten about as normal returns.

A stronger sense of community empowers us all to bring about positive change.

This has to be the way forward.

So now, we must ask, what will be the legacy of the Covid-19 crisis?

We've seen an alternate script for what collective life can look like. Will we do anything with it?