BLOG: Community resilience is vital for future heatwaves

Why does community resilience matter in a heatwave? This blog by Nick Drew, senior project officer on Communities Prepared, explains.

What a scorcher!

The UK has just had its hottest day ever, breaking 40 degrees Celsius for the first time. And while some see this as an opportunity to flock to the beach, there is a more serious side. Heat is deadly – the 2003 heatwave in Europe led to more than 20,000 deaths – often of elderly people in housing that wasn’t built for the extreme heat, and often living alone. We don’t yet know what the impact of the recent heatwave will be, but it’s likely there will be a spike in the numbers of people who lose their lives in July.

With climate change starting to bite, we are seeing increasingly severe weather events – and the Met Office projections show that instances of these events will continue to increase. In February, we had three named storms within the period of a week (Dudley, Eunice and Franklin), leaving flooding, power outages, and travel chaos in their wake. And whilst there is much we can do as individuals to respond to extreme weather events, it is when we come together as communities that we can really support the more vulnerable members of society. Therefore it is vital that communities become more resilient before the crisis hits.

Communities Prepared

Communities Prepared is a Groundwork programme, primarily funded by The National Lottery Reaching Communities Fund, that aims to support communities to do just that – building their capacity to work effectively with the Emergency Services when there is a major incident, but also in the emergency situations where communities are fending for themselves. It aims to equip community members to run their own Community Emergency Volunteer groups, through training and support from Groundwork’s Communities Prepared team.

The programme is unique in its offer thanks to its national, multi-issue community training and support focus. However Groundwork is just one organisation that is active in this space – and we bring our long expertise in community work, as outlined in our new report From the Ground Up, into a wider circle of organisations looking to develop community responses to emergencies. With that in mind, Communities Prepared is working with the multi-sector Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership (VCSEP) and the British Red Cross.

A table-top Heatwave Exercise, run by the VCSEP in April, showed the range of partners potentially involved in such emergencies. The exercise highlighted some of the challenges around sharing an understanding of at-risk community members, and also about the information flows that need to be in place to deal with the set of cascading events that can fall out of an extreme weather scenario.

this is what Communities Prepared is all about – we act as the ‘glue’ between community level discussions and the wider range of potential stakeholders

There is a huge challenge in engagement and awareness raising, as well as upskilling individuals and community groups. And in this context, the five key ingredients in From The Ground Up are all ones that we recognise within Communities Prepared:

  • Longevity: the project has been running since a regional pilot in 2016, built on learning from other Groundwork projects before it, and has built up a reputation and recognition among a wide set of stakeholders and networks over this time. Some of these are local, but many of them are regional or national. For communities, this means they know who they need to talk to for support – and we complement this with a diverse training offer which not only provides technical content but focuses on the longer-term sustainability of volunteer groups too.
  • Hubs: we recognise the value of a physical space to act as a rallying point for communities, facilitating networking and other community activities, and have been exploring ways to incorporate this into community resilience building.
  • Mediators and Capacity Builders: this is what Communities Prepared is all about – we act as the ‘glue’ between community level discussions and the wider range of potential stakeholders – and we help the community to understand how best to interact with those stakeholders.
  • Variety and detail: We see community resilience as being part of a ‘whole of society’ response to the challenges that we all face. That means that everyone should be able to play a part – either as a long-term volunteer, or for a one-off task in response to a call for immediate help within their community. The challenges faced by a community are quite varied and not always easy to predict – so being able to deal with the unexpected is a key part of upskilling communities. And it’s why our focus is multi-issue; we encourage community volunteers to think about how they can support their community in a range of different situations, built on an understanding of their priorities and needs – which in turn helps to keep them motivated and engaged too.
  • Building the communities workforce: within the Communities Prepared team, we all have extensive experience of community working (and some lived experience of dealing with emergencies) but come from quite different backgrounds. It is this blend of experience that enables us to support communities to feel empowered to manage with the variety of challenges they face, and to take the programme forward against an ever-changing backdrop of government policy, emerging risks, and wider initiatives in the resilience world.

We believe that community resilience also has to be built “from the ground up” – and with the set of interconnected challenges that communities across the UK face, now is the time for Groundwork to be strategically focusing on how Communities Prepared can scale to meet those challenges. We hope you will join us on that journey.

Blog by Nick Drew, Senior Project Officer, Communities Prepared

Find out more about Communities Prepared

Read From the Ground Up