Lord Richard Dannatt: Two years on from lockdown, pandemic community spirit is rushing back

28 Mar 2022 Voices

Lord Richard Dannatt reflects on community spirit and our collective capacity to make a difference

Lord Richard Dannatt

I am being asked on an almost daily basis at the moment to comment on the conflict in Ukraine. How far will Putin go? Can the Ukrainian resolve win out? What about a No Fly Zone? The best that we can do is speculate about the outcome of this conflict. The truth is that nothing is certain. However, what the Ukraine crisis, and previously the Covid-19 crisis, have shown us is our collective capacity to make a difference in times of need.

The pandemic showed what we are capable of as a nation when we all come together. Two years ago this week we first went into UK-wide lockdown and the generosity of spirit that has been shown in the period since has been nothing short of remarkable.

The general public was fantastic but the business community stepped up like never before. They created hand gels and PPE. They launched new food poverty programmes, and donated funds to the tune of many millions for those in need. More than 40% of the National Emergencies Trust’s (NET) £100m Coronavirus Appeal came from the corporate community.  

Our own NET Patrons stepped forward at speed, including Arco and BT, the Co-op and NatWest Group to raise huge sums of money with customers’ and colleagues’ help, as well as M&G and Sky who gave to the appeal early on. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 Support Fund from the UK’s insurance and long-term savings industry was a unique industry-wide initiative to make a difference. Businesses of all shapes and sizes showed how the concept of corporate purpose can play out in reality; something playing out once again in response to the conflict in Ukraine.

The pandemic also showed what charities are capable of. Many thousands pivoted their existing services or launched brand new ones overnight to meet new needs. Tiny grassroot groups embraced technology to maintain vital connections with those feeling isolated and afraid. A quarter of the 14,000 NET Coronavirus Appeal grants distributed through UK Community Foundations and its network supported grassroots groups’ technology and connectivity needs.

Larger charities proved their agility too. Barnardo’s launched its Boloh helpline in just seven weeks offering dedicated support to children and families from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in multiple languages. While the Refugee Council was quick to launch a freephone Infoline for communities at greater risk of isolation; a service still vitally important today. The Refugee Council has launched a Refugee Crisis Appeal to support those currently fleeing Ukraine and all people whose lives and families are being torn apart by war.

Despite the cost of living crisis, we’re also seeing the same phenomenal generosity from the UK public that we saw during the pandemic. Incredibly more than £200m has already been donated to the DEC’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal since it launched, enabling 15 incredible charities to get support to where it’s needed. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have already signed up to the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme in just a matter of days.

When he helped to launch the National Emergencies Trust, our Royal Patron, HRH The Duke of Cambridge, said he thought Britain is at its best when faced with a crisis because that community spirit comes rushing back quicker than anything else. Today, when kindness and solidarity and community spirit has never been more needed, we’re seeing the best of human nature once again.

Richard Dannatt, General The Lord Dannatt. chair, The National Emergencies Trust

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