Wideopen – the town without mutual aid during pandemic

Social infrastructure that supports the community facilities of towns is as important for levelling up as investment in large infrastructure projects, according to a new report from Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy.

The authors, Professor Michael Kenny and Thomas Kelsey, argue that central government should work with local and devolved authorities to better focus, fund and devise a coherent social infrastructure strategy that establishes support for community facilities as a key pillar of the post-Covid recovery agenda.

While there has been a prominent tendency in some quarters to champion investment in physical infrastructure as the surest way of attending to the spatial inequalities that the pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated, the new report argues that investing in social infrastructure may be equally important for rebalancing the prospects of the UK’s nations, regions, cities and towns.

Social infrastructure is defined as the physical spaces and community facilities which bring people together to build meaningful relationships and create economic, social and civic value – spaces like high streets, libraries, leisure centres, pubs and other public places where peoples can come together and form support groups. Such places, the authors say, have dwindled in number.

Whereas Tavistock in Devon had well above-average levels of social infrastructure and the highest density of mutual aid groups in the country, Wideopen in North Tyneside, with less communal infrastructure than any other town in Britain, according to the report, did not report the emergence of a single mutual aid group during the pandemic.