Council considers impact of Covid-19 on Aberdeenshire communities

An assessment of the impact of Covid-19 on local communities has been discussed at a special meeting of Aberdeenshire Council.

Councillors were presented with the initial findings of a community impact assessment focusing on the effects of lockdown during the online meeting this week (Wed, Oct 7).

A report before councillors explained the purpose of the assessment was to identify the issues that may have affected community confidence in the ability of the council and other partners to respond to needs following the major disruption caused by Covid-19.

It also provided a route for community groups to offer their first-hand experience of how the pandemic has impacted socially, economically, environmentally and on wellbeing.

The report added that the information gathered could assist the council in its short, medium and longer-term recovery plans and rebuild community confidence, resilience and ability.

The assessment itself considered responses from an online survey held in August which looked at the impact on people, community groups and communities. Respondents were also asked for their views on the council’s response during the early stages of the pandemic.

A series of ward forums involving councillors and community groups were also held on the themes of people, place and the economy.

Although analysis of the information is ongoing, the interim assessment highlights some of the challenges and opportunities that have been faced over the past few months.

Among concerns for individuals were access to health care and the impact on long-term health, as well as worries of the impact of the pandemic on mental health and well-being. Responses also showed that a significant amount of people have been drinking more alcohol than usual.

On a more positive note, people reported enjoying spending more time with their families, being more active during lockdown, making positive changes to their lifestyles and finding new ways to relax and take part in activities.

Overall, education appears to be people’s biggest priority for the short and long term, as well as concern around the future transmission of the virus and keeping families and community groups safe.

Many community groups said they had missed the opportunity to generate income, with some facing challenges in sourcing supplies, and an increase in pressure on volunteers was also noted. Groups also felt they have faced barriers when dealing with some services, and voiced concern about the ability to meet current and future demand on services.

Despite this, community groups feel there has been better communication, that there is greater awareness about the activities and services delivered by the community and voluntary sector, and that there has been a positive uptake in the use of digital technology to support groups and deliver services.

The community and voluntary sector have reacted and adapted well, and there has been an increase in demand for community services, the assessment notes.

Looking at communities as a whole, a third of respondents agreed they had felt lonely or isolated during the lockdown, and one in three felt less safe in their home or local area than before. There are also worries about gaps in support for vulnerable groups, single parents and young people.

But residents are also confident that neighbour will look out for them and others and that they would help if asked. A significant number of people have volunteered locally and most plan to continue to do so.

Joint community planning groups meetings – involving community planning partners, councillors and area management teams – are to be held at the end of October and into early November, where local data will be shared and discussed.

The information will also be discussed by the management team of every council service, so that consideration can be given as to how the data could help shape the delivery of services.

Introducing the paper in the meeting, Council Leader Cllr Jim Gifford said: “We have all lived through some difficult and often challenging times these last seven months and it is really interesting so see the effects of everything that we have experienced laid out in terms of hard data. We have all seen the fantastic work that was done across our communities and that is clearly reflected in these surveys as is the generally positive response to the many services that the council kept going during the initial phases of the pandemic and beyond. There is much to learn from the results gathered here and we must ensure that the great work done in times of trouble is not lost when things start to improve.” 

Welcoming the assessment, the council formally acknowledged that Covid-19 does not affect all people or communities equally, as evidenced in the assessment.

Support was given for further work to capture community views in the future and to ensure targeted engagement with vulnerable groups.