In our tenth Sighting we reflect on the ‘changing weather’ and ask how we can stem the tide and nurture more warmth, connection and positivity. 

Over the course of March to May, we reported on a number of positive shifts towards greater trust, collaboration and participation. We heard how people were stepping up and doing what they could to support their neighbours through the trials and tribulations of lockdown. But since the end of August – perhaps amplified by restrictions tightening once again – we have heard that there’s been a change in sentiment reflecting the change in weather. 

From doubting to trusting and back again?

We’ve heard how conspiracy theories that originated in the US have made their way over to the UK, pointing to a growing distrust between citizens and the state.

Covid has been made to happen by the powers who control the world (some elite world order) to coercively control individuals so they are not allowed to carry on with their lives in normal ways
Observatory Coordinator

Many people in the community are talking about the whole situation as a means of ‘control’. Some have completely stopped watching the news and there is absolutely no trust with the media – televised and online. People fear that their human rights are being ‘secretly’ diminished under the ‘cloak of Covid’ and the agenda is ‘control’ not ‘care’
Observatory Contributor

Distrust in the mainstream media also appears to be on the rise as groups look inwards for information, reinforcing the trend towards greater in-group bonding and growing divides between different groups.
One man said to me ‘I know a lot of f@”king people, and I don’t know anyone who’s had it!’ With which the entire group around us agreed with him
Observatory Contributor

Trust has been completely diminished and people are going to act according to what they hear and see in their social groups, irrelevant of government guidance and rulings. There is a very strong and uneasy feeling of ‘us and them’ right now, more so than I have ever experienced
Observatory Contributor

The government’s response has been to increase penalties for those who don’t comply with Covid regulations. But as Professor Neil Denton points out, “a doubling down approach to enforcement is at best a zero-sum game. We cannot regulate and enforce our way out of this. We have seen the consequences of a state response perceived as overly punitive or unfair on the streets of a number of cities across the world”.

He continues, “We should remember that an attraction towards conspiracy theories is normally an indication of vulnerability and a lack of social identification with a powerful out-group; responding using “the facts” is unlikely to be effective – listening through the allegation in order to hear the un-met needs and responding accordingly is much more likely to build trust.”

The disillusionment phase?

Shifts in public sentiment of this kind following major disruptions are not unprecedented. SAMHSA lays out six phases of disaster, stage five being ‘disillusionment’. 

Source: SAMHSA Phases of Disaster

Back in March, April and into May we heard stories of heroism (stage three) and community cohesion (stage four). SAMHSA explains that during these phases “there is a sense of altruism, and many community members exhibit adrenaline-induced rescue behavior…disaster assistance is readily available. Community bonding occurs. Optimism exists that everything will return to normal quickly”. 

The honeymoon phase is typically short lived, however, and replaced by disillusionment. “During the disillusionment phase, communities and individuals realize the limits of disaster assistance. As optimism turns to discouragement and stress continues to take a toll…The increasing gap between need and assistance leads to feelings of abandonment”.

 This chimes with what we’ve been hearing lately: 

People’s stress buckest are full now – patience is wearing thin and people are becoming less understanding. Parents at my kids nursery used to be really open and understanding about – for example – the need to have Zoom storytelling sessions instead of face-to-face ones – but now they’re snapping at the nursery about small things
Observatory Contributor

People are tired, stressed, fearful for the future and becoming increasingly “thin skinned”. Newly formed social media groups are beginning to morph from spaces of allegiance to forums of allegation and alienation
Observatory Contributor

We called it mutual aid here because everybody else did, but it wasn’t really. It was some people doing things for other people. This time lots more people are struggling – not with shopping and things but mentally, trouble at home and things like that.  We need to support one another much more this time.. Just because you can do practical things for other people doesn’t mean you don’t need help too
Observatory Contributor

Does this model ring true for you? Do we find ourselves in the disillusionment phase? How can we hold on to some of the hope of previous months and work together towards a better, more connected future? We’d love to hear your observations

Reasons to be positive

Whilst distrust, apathy, tension and scapegoating appear to be on the rise, we’ve been reminded that there are still reasons to be optimistic: 

Although the conversations are worrying, people are talking more. They are more observant and are engaging with the world on a more localised level. They are using their eyes and ears and are taking note of their immediate surroundings more
Observatory Contributor

And our story of the week gives us more reason to be cheerful: 
Blood Bikes is a group of unpaid volunteer motorbikers. They like to ride and they like to do good. In normal times they deliver blood out-of-hours and in emergencies for the NHS in Warwickshire and Solihull.

 As Lockdown began they contacted Warwick hospital with an offer to deliver chemo drugs to patients’ homes as well. Four weeks later they were on the road “‘We cant be the stumbling block. We just need to make it work’ were the words of the Information Governance lead at Warwick Hospital. No DBS checks (because they weren’t needed) quick and simple telephone consent sought from patients, information shared. A loose three month agreement drawn up. ‘We don’t typically do that but they were itching to get started, and we were in the middle of an emergency. We knew some things would work and some things wouldn’t but not which ones so we just thought we can stock take as we go’ said the NHS manager who brought all the bits of puzzle together to make it happen. The can do approach flourished as a result of the pandemic and it is all going so well that another local hospital has come on board.  All the Undercurrents we spotted in the Moment We Noticed  – trust, collaboration, personalised provision and a can do spirit combining to brilliant effect!

Observatory Contributor

As lockdown restrictions tighten once again, we need to continue listening and learning in real time. How does it feel where you live or work? What are you seeing and hearing? We have appreciated your contributions so far and would love to hear from you again. An email, long or short, would be greatly appreciated, or a phone call to swap notes.

Thanks to this week’s contributors

The Observatory is a voluntary collaboration led by the Relationships Project. We are dependent on the eyes and ears of our observers and partner organisations and we need more.

The voices heard this week include Diane Coles, Neil Denton, Karen Pilkington, Len Rosen, Jade Ward and Clare Wightman.

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