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A Question of Necessity

The coronavirus pandemic has required many of us to adapt. Fortunately there are plenty of people who have long been disillusioned with the status quo who can help us navigate these complex times, says Julie Tomlin of funding collective SHED.

Shovel digging Photo by Lisa Fotios
Lisa Fotios (Pexels)

A divide that has emerged since lockdown began in March is the extent to which people want ‘normality’ back.

Though the Prime Minister has promised a “significant” return to it by Christmas, the notion has been rejected by all but a minority. Only 9% of respondents in a YouGov poll in April said they wanted to live life in the same way they had before coronavirus kept many of us in our homes.

The long-term change that could come from those months when people were cooking more, spending less, and finding a greater connection with nature may take years to reveal itself. But what is ‘normal’ - and how great was it anyway?

These are questions that many have been asking since the start of the pandemic, while a sizeable group of people were questioning ‘normality’ well before Covid-19 took hold. Many of the people, projects and networks that we have been working with at SHED since we launched in October 2019 are less interested in maintaining the status quo and more interested in discovering alternatives and developing creative responses to the challenges ahead.

As the academic Silvia Federici said recently, the pandemic has exposed crises in our systems that have been growing for decades - in systems of care, food and health, and in the poverty we find in our cities. The majority of these projects were engaged in work that falls into one of three categories outlined by academic Valerie Fournier, which are essential today: cultivating outrage, challenging inevitability and creating alternative moral economies.

Not that the majority of people are impervious to the shocks of this crisis, and the impact it has had on people nationally and internationally. In fact, many of them were themselves, or are linked to, marginalised and vulnerable people, who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Hearing accounts of the immediate impact of lockdown, SHED (standing for Sustainability, Health, Environment, Development) was forced to ask deep questions—and also very practical ones—about the way we were going to work during this time.

Set up as a ‘relational network’, and previously reliant on face-to-face meetings, perhaps one of the biggest changes we made was to begin developing an online platform, Necessity, which launched at the beginning of September. We hope that Necessity will provide a space where individuals and groups funded by SHED can ‘meet’, encouraging cross-fertilisation of ideas and enabling us to extend our network.

The projects listed currently are those that were funded as part of our Covid-19 strategy. These fall broadly into five categories: food systems and structures, radical reconciliation, de-colonisation and post growth economies, environment, and human rights. Although diverse in their work and approaches, what the projects share is a sense of creativity in providing solutions.

Some, like the Good Law Project, are invested in using the law to strengthen often marginalised communities, and the GLP is working with the Tenants’ Union to challenge evictions caused by people falling behind with their rent. Others, such as the Coping Mechanism Project, are applying their expertise in psychology to track the impact of Covid on communities.

At a time when so many of us have been forced to work from home, the household has suddenly been placed centre stage. For years, many of us juggled our working lives with our domestic lives, but with so many people staying away from their usual workplaces, the false divide between those two worlds was punctured, if not torn down. Those projects that challenge the different ways in which the ‘domestic’ realm is devalued have often been working against the tide, on the certainty that placing value on those domestic activities is key if we are to forge a different kind of future. You will see textiles and herbalism projects, as well as projects that teach women practical skills, on the pages of Necessity, because so many of those aspects of our lives—from the clothes we wear to our health and the food we eat—need to be re-valued and made a part of the picture if we are going to live more sustainably.

The weakness of our ‘just in time’ supply systems and early fears about food shortages during the onset of lockdown also combined to put the spotlight on our fragile food system. With so little food grown in the UK, we are not only vulnerable to shocks, but helpless to their significant impacts on people’s health and the health of the environment—particularly, though not exclusively, the soil. The network of food growers that are part of Necessity have been immersed in this reality and are well-placed to give shape to solutions that are more locally-based and take less of a toll on our environment.

Our hope is that, in being part of Necessity, all of the projects represented will be able to recognise those in the network whose work and approach resonates with theirs and that, in the future, there will be new collaborations that emerge as a result.

In another departure from our earlier way of working, at the time of writing the SHED team is currently processing applications after the first of our call-outs for new members. This was a plea for people to report from the communities that they are part of and give voice to diverse perspectives, particularly on the pandemic and lockdown.

The hope is that this initiative will not only extend our network, but will also shine a light on the challenges that people face and help us to discover more people and projects who are not invested in the status quo.

Learn more

SHED is a funding network that supports people and projects in the UK.

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