Published On: July 23, 2021

This article first appeared in a briefing paper from the Alliance Manchester University Business School and was authored by Professor Duncan Shaw.


We’re here to support you” – words which, over the last year and across every nation, have made us realise that we are not alone. These words form the backbone of community resilience. In some places, local and national community resilience has been strategically nurtured for years – establishing far-reaching partnerships within, and across, individuals, groups, organisations and networks. Given the community efforts during COVID- 19, this briefing asks ‘Is community resilience a new local and national resilience capability?’

Risk and resilience

The government’s Resilience Capabilities Programme1 identifies resilience capabilities to respond to, and recover from, civil emergencies. It uses the National Risk Assessment to identify the generic capabilities needed to respond to different disruptive events e.g. mass evacuation and shelter, resilient telecoms. This enables responders to manage any risk – as each capability provides enough flexibility to adapt to unforeseen impacts on the people, places and processes involved.

Thinking about local and national risks should include thinking about the local and national resilience capabilities that deal with those risks so we understand the fragility and strength of our systems to disruptive events. One strength – not formally recognised as a resilience capability – is community resilience.

Community Resilience

Community resilience ‘is all about working with civil society to create social value and achieve a more resilient UK’ 2 and ‘is enabled when the public are empowered to harness local resources and expertise to help

themselves and their communities’ 3. A community is formed of many constituents, including:

  • Individuals, including volunteers who provide capacity;
  • Groups, including faith and community groups;
  • Organisations, including SMEs and big business who donate and support;
  • Networks, including associations, and groups of groups such as the local economic partnerships.

These constituents can build community capability and capacity to tackle the cause of risk, identify local needs, reduce vulnerabilities, and harness community capacities. This aims to lessen the impact of an emergency by: raising awareness, adopting resilient behaviours, sustained ability and action, learning and improving. However, this needs co-ordination – for example, by government working even more closely with communities to co- develop community processes that: identify, co-ordinate and enhance community capabilities and capacities; understand risk at source; understanding vulnerabilities better; enhance preparedness to act; and, learn to improve collaborations. This can reduce the likelihood and impacts or risks by communities being aware of hazards and risks, adopting resilient behaviours, being engaged and on standby with governance, knowledge, and resources to act safely and effectively. It is important that we now work to maintain our newfound community resilience beyond COVID-19.

Why community resilience now?

Around 15 years ago the narrative of resilience was “We’re here to save you” – suggesting that responders would come to assist everyone. Then, appreciating that some emergencies are just so big that the responders alone could not save everyone, around eight years ago the narrative changed towards “We’re prepared, are you?”. This shares responsibility for resilience across communities and responders and questions how resilient are our communities: Will communities really react? How many? Will they help? COVID-19 answered these questions.

During COVID-19, our communities were a national resilience capability. We witnessed community response on a scale and diversity that was previously unthinkable including invisible acts of good neighbourliness, donations by businesses of all sizes, thousands of mutual aid groups, all while the voluntary sector was struggling.

Communities were the heart of the first (and prolonged) response, proving that communities have planned and hidden resilience. Planned resilience came from tangible structures and mechanisms which were present before the crisis hit, such as the voluntary sector. Hidden resilience emerged and became known during the response, but it may never be fully appreciated in its diversity and volume. Some areas have measured the impact of their community’s resilience by counting: registered volunteers, volunteer hours, supported people, services provided, organisations involved, donations received, deliveries made, unmet needs remaining, etc.

COVID-19 has shown the importance of communities during response. What is the next narrative … “What can we do to support you?” i.e. that, for some emergencies, responders and communities work in full partnership – a local resilient capability that is part of the first line of attack (of defence) alongside

An adjusted mind-set

Previously, community resilience was about building risk and resilience into mind-sets, behaviours, and community culture – an intractable and mountainous task. But, COVID-19 did that almost overnight. “What can we do to support you?” requires an adjusted mind-set where a community:

  • Pinpoints the most vulnerable individuals, groups, organisations and networks, and their needs;
  • Identifies community capacities to meet needs.

Not all communities are in the same advanced state but many have identified, and answered, their own vulnerabilities. We have witnessed a masterclass in the resilience of our communities as a local and national resilience capability. Now, if we cherish it, it is incumbent on us all to nurture it.

Community resilience is now about embedding mind-sets

The focus now is on embedding this new mind-set post-COVID-19. This raises important questions:

  • How can community resilience be supported by local government?
  • How can community resilience maintain its presence as a local and national resilience capability?
  • How can we maintain community resilience beyond the voluntary sector?
  • What partnership approach and support is needed to truly renew our community resilience?


Not all communities are in the same place or have the same capacities – some even struggle with the notion of community. This puts local government and partnerships at the heart of community resilience – occupying a supportive role. Local government may need to:

  • remind community leaders of their facilitative role;
  • identify and support community linchpins to galvanise the progress already made;
  • identify and remove barriers for communities to flourish;
  • co-produce a new understanding of risk, vulnerability and capability through communities.

Communities can be relied upon to respond when asked, to deliver activities, and many stay for a prolonged term. Establishing community resilience as a permanent local and national resilience capability now needs us to sustain what has already been created by communities, local government, community groups, small businesses, neighbours, individuals, social enterprises, the voluntary sector, and so many more hidden networks. In many places, community resilience as a local resilience capability is ‘here today’ – renewal is needed to ensure it is ‘here to stay’, not ‘gone tomorrow’.



2. HM Government ‘Community Resilience Development Framework’, Cabinet Office, July 2019. Page 3.

3 Ibid. Page 2.

For more information contact: Professor Duncan Shaw, [email protected]

We are working with local governments in England, Scotland, Chile, Canada, Palestine, and USA to develop community resilience as a local resilience capability. This research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19 (Project number: ES/V015346/1), and by The University of Manchester.

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