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The Impact of Coronavirus on Rural Scotland – A contribution from the SEGS Group: Part 1

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Blog picture: The Impact of Coronavirus on Rural Scotland – A contribution from the SEGS Group: Part 1
Research shows that positive social capital and social innovation supports community resilience in periods of crisis and change.

1. Community resilience and social innovation

With contributions from: Dominic Duckett, Mags Currie, Carla Barlagne, Claire Hardy, Leanne Townsend, Sharon Flanigan, Ruth Wilson, Jon Hopkins, Annabel Pinker.

As a group, we spend much of our time undertaking social research in rural communities and with land managers across Scotland, and internationally. We get to know people and community groups, and follow their progress with interest. During this period of global crisis, many of us are concerned about the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak ('Coronavirus') on rural Scotland. In this series of blog posts, we share some of our social science experience to consider how rural Scotland can and might respond to the Coronavirus crisis. We consider first the key factors that underpin community resilience, followed by the impact on aspects of Scottish agriculture, and the potential for positive change post-virus. We include the full references to the research reports and papers mentioned at the end of each post and would be happy to send free to access versions to anyone who wishes to read them. Please email the authors directly through the hyperlinks provided.

What do we know already from our social science experience? How can this knowledge help rural communities and policy makers respond?

Through many research projects in rural communities across Scotland, we have sought to understand the key factors that underpin community resilience. ‘Community resilience’ is understood as a community’s capacity to adapt to change, whether as a result of an emergency or cumulative, long-term transformation (1). Long-term rural decline (e.g. depopulation, ageing, unemployment, etc.), as well as more sudden disruptive change, can particularly affect the resilience of communities in remote and rural areas of Scotland.

The ‘Local assets, local decisions and community resilience’ project funded by the Scottish Government (Strategic Research Programme, 2016-2021) has highlighted the need to be mindful that local actors, stakeholders and community groups, and local and national government have different interpretations both of what resilience means and how it should be fostered. Research by Mags Currie and colleagues shows that it is imperative for communication between different groups to be as clear as possible and that people working at different levels listen and learn from each other’s understandings of ‘community resilience’ (2).

Previous research has also illustrated the importance of positive community capacity and access to resources in overcoming challenges to community resilience. In a recent research paper, Anke Fischer and Annie McKee sought to understand the interaction between community capacities and capital (social, physical, human, and financial) in a critical case study of rural community decline (3). In this time of global crisis, these research findings illustrate the value and importance of community cohesion (e.g. a sense of neighbourliness and ‘coming together’) and the existence of positive social capacities (as well as infrastructural and organisational capacities) in communities, evident in the many community-led initiatives emerging across rural Scotland during the current Coronavirus outbreak.

Many rural communities have strong local networks and are accustomed to relying on local resources.

The ‘Long-term impacts of flooding’ project funded by CREW (the Scottish Government’s Centre for Expertise for Waters), tracked two communities in the North-East of Scotland following flooding events (including Storm Frank) in 2015-16 (4). Although this project considered a wholly different type of emergency to the current Coronavirus crisis, the flooding instigated local resilient actions in many communities. One action that is particularly important with regard to the current situation is the formation or re-establishment of local community resilience groups and associated local resilience plans. In this emergency, these groups have quickly established networks of volunteers who are able to take supplies to vulnerable people or households in self-isolation. The ‘long-term impacts of flooding’ project found that many rural communities have strong local networks and are accustomed to relying on local resources, rather than receiving support from external agencies. This suggests that many rural communities may already be well-placed to mobilise response efforts.

The ‘Long-term impacts of flooding’ project also showed how people respond to and move on from stressful situations. It highlighted that people’s mental health will not just be affected at the time of the incident, but also in the future. We found that any reminder of the flooding caused dips in wellbeing; a similar scenario may unfold when changes or new announcements are made about Coronavirus. Such findings suggest that resilience responses need to consider how efforts can be made to promote mental health for people at this time (e.g. through virtual forums, distance befriending schemes, etc.).

Our experience in European research projects investigating community resilience (conducted within the framework of the H2020 SIMRA project) has shown that socially innovative communities have been able to address challenges by constructing empowering narratives for the change they want to see happen (5) and reconfiguring social practices (i.e. new networks, new rules, new coordination arrangements, etc.) in order to achieve positive benefits local people. These benefits include community cohesion, sense of place, employment and recreation opportunities, and an increase of positive amenities from natural assets (as discussed by Carla Barlagne and colleagues (6)). Policy might intervene to reinforce communities’ capacities to tackle such challenges, and Scotland is an exemplar in creating a policy landscape that supports community empowerment (e.g. the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, and others). Beyond that, however, there is a need to ensure that communities have the means to build long-term capacity (6; 7) that will enable them to react to sudden events such as the current Coronavirus crisis.

References
(1)
Currie, M.; McKee, A.; Markantoni, M.; Glass, J.; Pinker, A.; McMorran, R.; Meador, J.E. (Under review) Transdisciplinary understandings of rural community resilience: Perceptions and meanings from rural community stakeholders. Submitted to: Community Development Journal.

(2) Currie, M. (2019) Rural community resilience: the ‘everyday’ and the ‘emergency’. Available online: https://www.hutton.ac.uk/blogs/rural-community-resilience-%E2%80%98everyday%E2%80%99-and-%E2%80%98emergency%E2%80%99

(3) Fischer, A. and McKee, A. (2017) A question of capacities? Community resilience and empowerment between assets, abilities and relationships. Journal of Rural Studies 54: 187-197. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2017.06.020

(4) Currie, M., Philip, L., and Dowds, G., (2020) “Long-term impacts of flooding following the winter 2015/16 flooding in North-East Scotland: Summary Report” Available online at: https://www.crew.ac.uk/publication/impacts-flooding

(5) Vercher, N.; Barlagne, C.; Hewitt, R.; Nijnik, M.; Esparcia, J. (Under review) Narratives of rural social innovation. A comparative analysis of community-led initiatives in Scotland and Spain. Submitted to: Journal of Rural Studies

(6) Barlagne, C.; Melnykovych, M.; Hewitt, R.; Kerschbaum, D.; Miller, D.R.; Nijnik, M. (2019) Analytical case studies (Type A case study) Lochcarron Community Development Company - Strathcarron, Scotland, UK., Internal Project Report 5.4j - Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas (SIMRA), 59pp.

(7) Slee, B. and Mosdale, L. (2020). How policy can help bring about social innovation in rural areas. Policy brief (document produced within the framework of the H2020 founded SIMRA project). Available online: http://www.simra-h2020.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020-02-03-Policy-brief_Slee-Mosdale_FINAL.pdf

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author, and not an official position of the institute or funder.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.