A reawakening of society?

By Nathan Elvery | 13 May 2020

If there was ever any doubt the concept or the reality of a society existed then step no further than your front door on a Thursday evening and witness the emotional experience in every neighbourhood taking place in our country at this time.

Our neighbours, who have for years existed alongside each other, are finding new reasons to reconnect with relationships which have been lost in recent years through the daily pursuit of our lives as we once knew them. At these very moments we all feel connected under the same single sky with a single grateful message of thanks and perhaps more crucially a message of hope. The simple concept of belonging to something we hold as important to our lives is the very essence of a society.

It is the nature of any command situation, especially one not witnessed since the Second World War, that it demands a focus, clarity and a relentless pursuit of key outcome objectives. As you shine a light on this focus it puts other priorities into perspective.

The experience of COVID-19 will reshape our society, the core values on which it is built and, perhaps as importantly, the priorities which we will now seek our political leaders to address in the future as normality returns.

It is clear that future policy making will not be seen or more importantly felt the same way ever again. Over these last few weeks we have seen a huge societal shift to our communities and away from the individual. It will be crucial as we move from response to recovery under our command structures to recognise the legitimacy of this shift for the communities we are there to serve and the new horizon of political priorities which will undoubtedly emerge.

It will no longer be acceptable to our society that the public sector is starved of the resources it so desperately needs, nor will our new society tolerate the basics not being available to all, such as the simple need to have a safe place to call home. The expectations of society will also influence the shape of the organisations we lead, how we engage with our communities and the rapid repositioning of the way that we work, how we work and where we work from.

There is no doubt that our heroes on the frontline, every public sector frontline, are indeed heroes. The public sector – and a deeper understanding of the role it plays in our lives each and everyday, through these heroes – has reconnected to a new meaning in society and our communities which was potentially lost. It really takes nothing to say ‘thank you’ but the notes left for delivery drivers, waste collection teams and volunteers translate a message of a much deeper meaning than these simple words alone.

We are expressing our raw emotions and our genuine sentiments at a time when deep down we are worried about those we love and those who are dependent upon our love. A connection built upon emotion is the deepest relationship of all. We seek to protect our heroes as a collective, look no further than the response to a call for NHS volunteers or the act of providing food to replenish our NHS family or our protection of our heroes from those who would seek to harm them. The world needs heroes as they show society the way and recreate the values on which it will be judged and how it will navigate the journey ahead.

The local government sector has shown time and time again it can thrive in the most challenging of circumstances, sometimes against all the odds, in the toughest of environments. This is because each and every individual has their own personal reason for being part of this wonderful sector. These individual narratives are what get people out of bed each day to make that positive difference to people’s lives.

How do I know this? Because having spent more than 30 years in the sector I have been moved by many of these stories. If you doubt me, stop and ask the next person you meet – believe me, everyone has a story, everyone is special. These personal drivers are why when you add it all together the sector through ordinary people do extraordinary things, every day.

This is what it means to belong to the local government family. Every day I hear and witness truly outstanding professionalism and dedication to society – everyday people being everyday heroes. Keep being heroes, the world is a darker place without you.

This is why we will succeed, and through the daily accounts of heroic action, society will re-awaken and will fall back in love with the public sector – perhaps realising that this old love was indeed its first. After all that is why we all fell in love with it in the first place and why it remains close to our hearts.

Nathan Elvery is former chief executive of West Sussex CC and Croydon LBC and managing director of Imagine Public Services

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