From the surreal to the slow burn

3 min readMay 3, 2020

We are in a surreal situation where the impacts of this crisis are invisible, uncertain and on the horizon. We need to understand how invisible the effects of this situation are on different people & places and to help them share these experiences to build a new social contract?

We need to understand what are the changes in how we live and work that will accelerate and deepen. We need to create the spaces for communities & institutions to come together to tackle those inequalities and use the ways of creating solidarity that have emerged to create social and physical infrastructure that can help us renew our society.

We need to understand the deep changes that are operating under the radar in how we may live and work in the future, changes which may accelerate history rather than necessarily reshape it. We need to learn from previous crises, in what conditions created the space for these changes to become the “new normal” (i.e. bringing women into the workforce post WW2) and what trends were short lived (i.e. fear of flying post 9/11). If social distancing continues, will we need to think of infrastructure that helps our neighbourhoods be more self-sufficient and resilient — like the idea of a “15 minute neighbourhood”?

However, many of the most structural inequalities are invisible to the majority of us, the causes are embedded into who we are as a society and many people who suffer from these inequalities are living on the edge avoiding to fall of the cliff, from people who sofa surf to people with chronic conditions. Covid 19 will have created various new inequalities from the medical & economic impacts, it will also have exacerbated existing ones. As we live under lockdown, many of us may feel this is an opportunity for a slowdown, but we don’t see how quickly the impacts are being felt by others, who are losing their jobs, seeing their debt go up or abusive relationships become even more violent.

We need to understand & share the lived experiences of people to help public services & communities to understand the impacts of the situation on people and shape a collective story about what our society in all its diversity is going through and how we build on the solidarity that has emerged in the emergency to a new social and economic contract for the long term. We need to move from a Blitz moment to a Beveridge moment.

We’re currently in a surreal place where people, organisations & businesses will be on economic “life support” through the emergency Covid 19 support that Government has put in place, but what if that were to support. We’d see a “delayed demand” push many people & organisations over the edge.

Councils that put in place the foundations for building strong relationships with their communities and anchor institutions and supporting their staff to work in a creative and agile way will have been able to scale up and flex their support to respond to the situation.

We need to look at how we can support organisations & sectors to survive and re-invent at the same time in ways which can continue protecting people’s lives and livelihoods while refocusing them around new missions or “giants” as Beveridge would have said, that the UK should focus on to build a renewed civic economy.

However, the scale of the social & economic crisis that we’ll enter into will require local places to develop strategies for collective investment that can help places rebuild a resilience that can cope with future shocks the crisis will bring, reinvent themselves to meet new needs and opportunities and renew a social & economic contract with their citizens.

What social & physical infrastructure can help embed or accelerate and embed the solidarity that communities have created?

What collective levers do we need to support people & organisations to have space to recover, reinvent and renew the way they live and work?




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese