How did communities in North West England respond to the COVID-19 lockdown? Findings from a diary study

Fiona Ward, Emma Halliday, Vivien Holt, Koser Khan, Gill Sadler, Paula Wheeler, Joanna Goldthorpe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVES: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government and public health leaders advocated for community level responses to support vulnerable people. This activity could be planned and co-ordinated, however much was informal and developed organically. The effects on the individuals who were involved in providing and receiving informal support and implications for their communities have not been widely explored. The aim of this study was therefore to document and explore the nature, potential effects and longevity of community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PARTICIPANTS: We asked 15 individuals in North West England to keep a diary during the first UK COVID-19 lockdown. Over 8 weeks, diaries were completed and supported with weekly calls with researchers. A community capacity building framework was used to explore reported community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

RESULTS: Diarists described community characteristics that enabled and hindered helpful responses in the lockdown context. Diarists frequently described informal approaches with residents acting alone or with near neighbours, although there were examples of community networks and residents recommencing formal volunteering activities. Diarists reported communities providing practical help and social support to vulnerable people. Participants perceived a greater sense of community, increased contact between residents and new networks during the period covered.

CONCLUSION: The diaries provided valuable insights and the framework was a useful tool to explore the COVID-19 lockdown context. The findings indicate that organic capacity building took place, primarily via individual agency, highlighting the risk of communities being 'left behind' if there were not individuals or community networks available with resources to plug gaps in organisational support. Recommendations to sustain helpful responses to the pandemic include further consideration of ongoing community mobilisation, empowerment and community control within the capacity building framework.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere057774
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2022


  • COVID-19
  • public health
  • qualitative research


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