What if… COVID-19 stimulated our communities to be even stronger and more thriving?

While life was easier for many of us before COVID-19, below the surface “normal” was far from perfect. Often out of sight and out of mind, “normal” was a time of inequality with food banks getting ever busier across the country, of rising mental ill health, of loneliness, of social and political divisions, and of environmental and climate crises, and of economic instability. These problems are still there and getting worse, pandemic or no pandemic.

The What If Network

Dunbar, East Linton and the local villages have always been community-minded places with a get-it-done approach to making a great place to live even better. From organising gala days to Christmas lights, from sports clubs to arts events and much more. Local groups and their volunteers also provide help and support when it’s needed including running food banks and lunch clubs, providing training to vulnerable people, debt advice, etc. And of course the Community Councils and a range of local groups, including faith groups, have been central to the response to COVID-19.

We are now coming together to ask:

  • What if COVID-19 stimulated our communities to be even stronger and more thriving?
  • What if we, and others, put the energy and resources we applied to the immediate response to COVID-19 into creating a better future – right now?
  • What if we could influence local and national social, environmental and economic policies to create the sort of society we want and need?

The What If Network offers local groups, local people and key stakeholders spaces to think big, work out what’s most needed, and make it happen. We look forward to working with the Community Councils, Area Partnership and East Lothian Council; together with our allies we can bring additional resources, enthusiasm and energy to help shape a new and better normal for everyone.

An action network, not a talking shop

Making plans is (relatively) easy. But they’re useless unless turned into effective action and bring about worthwhile change. It won’t necessarily be quick and it will take hard work. A key element of this will be securing funding to extend and grow existing projects and to develop new ones.

By working together, sharing members’ experience, contacts and other resources, the What If Network will:

  • Reach out across the communities of Dunbar, East Linton and the villages, to let people know about the essential work that local groups are doing, and encourage them to get involved.
  • Hold a variety of online activities and safe, in person, events and meetings to learn what matters to people and to generate and test ideas about possible new projects and developments.
  • Gather stories, case studies and other evidence that demonstrate to potential funders and partners that projects are supported by the community, and that local groups have the capacity and experience to deliver them.
  • Help groups create high quality, targeted funding applications for both new and existing activities, potentially including collaborative projects.
  • Provide coherent, well evidenced input, based on direct experience and community consultation, to help shape future Area Plans, local and national policies and strategies.

In a nutshell…

The What If Network of local groups will work together to create and deliver a community-led action plan for Dunbar and district to be a home to thriving people, in a thriving place, while respecting the wellbeing of all people, and the health of the whole planet.

Thriving locally – globally

We want our communities and places to thrive, but not at the expense of other people and other places. As we ask ‘What If’ and develop plans and projects, we will use four “lenses” to consider the local and the global at the same time:

Lens 1 – Local Social: What would it mean for the people of this community to thrive? For example: Everyone enjoys physical and mental health and wellbeing; Everyone has access to affordable: warm, comfortable homes; healthy, local food; fast broadband; Good training, jobs and other opportunities are available locally.

Lens 2 – Local Ecological: What would it mean for our community to thrive within our natural habitat? For example: Our land, rivers, beaches and sea are free from pollution with flourishing wildlife; Our parks, woodlands, beaches etc provide space for recreation and reconnection; Our gardens and farmlands provide healthy produce for local markets.

Lens 3 – Global Ecological: What would it mean for our community to respect the health of the whole planet? For example in our homes, organisations and businesses we: Minimise carbon emissions; Work towards zero waste; Choose sustainable products and services.

Lens 4 – Global Social: What would it mean for us to respect the wellbeing of people worldwide? For example: We inform ourselves about the impact of the products we use on the people who grow and produce them, and act accordingly – at home and in our organisations and businesses.

How will it work?

Exactly how the What If Network develops, what we do and how, will depend on what members want, the changing COVID-19 restrictions, our success with fundraising and so on. Sustaining Dunbar has offered to convene the network and has raised some funds to start the process and is hopeful of future funding. The initial plans have developed through collaboration between Sustaining Dunbar and the Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace, and build on conversations that Miriam Black and Ola Wojtkiewicz from Sustaining Dunbar, and Liz McLean and Duncan Smeed of Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace, have had with many local groups.

We are currently:

  • Continuing to have one to one meetings with local groups and stakeholders to learn what’s needed and how the What If Network could help.
  • Developing a programme of in person events and online activities. These will include engaging discussions, shared meals, nature walks, creative workshops and more. Themes will likely include: “healthy, local food for all” (including growing, distribution and cooking); “promoting physical and mental wellbeing and tackling loneliness” (for all ages); “good work and a thriving local economy” (including jobs, access to goods and services and a vibrant high street).
  • Continually developing and updating the What If website to highlight how the work of local groups is helping the area and the world to thrive, and letting people know how they can get involved.
  • Presenting an exhibition focusing on John Muir’s role as an environmental activist and successful campaigner and his relevance for our situation today.
  • Starting a social media and PR campaign to showcase the work of local groups, promote the forthcoming events and encourage more groups to be part of the network.

What if your group joined in?

The What If Network is open to all community and voluntary groups in and around Dunbar and East Linton, including the local villages of West Barns, Innerwick, Spott, Stenton, Oldhamstocks and Tyninghame. We welcome all groups – from community businesses to faith groups, from sports clubs to welfare associations – that want the area to be a home to thriving people, in a thriving place, while respecting the wellbeing of all people, and the health of the whole planet.

To join, or find out more, please email Ola Wojtkiewicz, engagement manager

Initial members include: Belhaven Community Garden, Climate Action East Linton, the Community Bakery, the Community Carrot, Dunbar Basics Bank, Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace, North Lights Arts, The Ridge, St Annes Episcopal and Methodist Church, Sustaining Dunbar.

If you are not involved in a local group but want to keep in touch with developments and opportunities to be involved please join Sustaining Dunbar to receive our newsletter.

If you are interested in volunteering your time and skills to support the network, we are especially looking for people who can help communicate the work of local groups, eg writers, photographers, videographers, podcasters, communications specialists etc; and people who can help organise online and in person events. Please email Ola – see above – to find out more.