6 reasons to prioritise social connection after the Coronavirus lockdown

Social connection must become a central pillar of future policy and planning, across sectors, and for the long-term, to manufacture new ways of bringing people together, build social trust, and act as a check and balance against the profound societal shifts taking place.

6 reasons to prioritise social connection after the Coronavirus lockdown

This is a guest article by Laurence Heijbroek, a researcher who formerly worked alongside the Jo Cox Foundation, conducted research to underpin the national celebration event The Great Get Together, and shared insights on the UK Government’s Roundtable Discussion for Tackling Loneliness.

It is ironic that for many the common denominator that now connects us is our collective state of physical disconnection. As the Covid-19 lockdown continues for its fifth week here in the UK profound shifts are taking place, disrupting conventional communication, working, and living arrangements beyond recognition (as every good self-isolating, self-made coronavirus expert now knows).

At this time of physical distancing, I am constantly reminded — during my own efforts to stay socially connected — that for some, loneliness and social isolation were an everyday reality long before the virus emerged, and that others will have become more vulnerable because of it.

This week I was encouraged to see the UK Government release its plan developed in collaboration with a Connection Coalition to tackle loneliness and social isolation during coronavirus lockdown, by building a national conversation and confronting stigma, publishing guidance, and unlocking new funds for loneliness charities and community organisations.

Looking to the promised land beyond lockdown, I have identified six reasons why social connection must become a central pillar of future policy and planning, across sectors, and for the long-term, to manufacture new ways of bringing people together, build social trust, and act as a check and balance against the profound societal shifts taking place.


1. We are becoming more private.

2. We are becoming less available.

3. Online connection best serves those with offline community.

4. Social fractures masked by this crisis will reemerge.

Notwithstanding the increased sense of solidarity we might share with our neighbours at this time (at a distance!), the reality is that we are less connected to our neighbourhoods than we used to be. Added to this, the traditional institutions that once brought people together (churches, working men’s clubs, the Women’s Institute) have declined. These are fertile conditions for loneliness and social isolation to breed. Many people do not connect across lines of difference, the large-scale consequence of our innate preference towards people like us. Without positive contact experiences with those different to oneself or those representing contrasting views, our opinions remain unmoderated and can become more entrenched, or even extreme. Profound social fractures weaken our collective resilience.

Building social connection into policy and planning can generate new ways of bringing people together, crossing divides, and fostering understanding, which is in this broader context greatly needed.

5. Our ability to navigate crises relies on social trust.

6. Social connectedness is good for us.


On a personal level, as with any crisis experienced in life, I find it is best to focus on the positives but to remember the negatives. So, when lockdown restrictions are finally relaxed, it is my hope that as a society we will not forget this experience of relative isolation so quickly, we will remember to look out for those in need, and we will put ourselves in situations where we can be open, approachable, and available for life-giving chance encounters with others. If the direction of social travel, shifting towards more frequent private activity, retains some level of permanency post-lockdown, it is my view that the future health of our society — including our ability to overcome existing social fractures — will increasingly rely upon social connection being placed at the heart of planning and policy, to build social trust, act as a check and balance, and catch those whom might otherwise fall into periods of social isolation and loneliness. Let this be a legacy of lockdown.


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