Fiyaz Mughal was the Founder and Director of Faith Matters between 2005-2020. He is also the Founder of Muslims Against Antisemitism.
The peak of Covid-19 may have passed, but this pandemic showed us all how ill-prepared we were for such a crisis.
Part of me thinks that our “island mentality” – the fact that we are separated from the mainland – gave us an innate and false sense of security, which in a globalised world, opened us up to risk.
Yet, I can’t also help thinking that we played out a kind of “phoney war”, much like we did between 1939-1940, where we expected something to happen but carried on life as normal.
When Covid did hit us, it led to the deaths of over 30,000 people and countless others affected. All the while, the response to Covid felt like panic and with Government alone leading the fightback. This simply cannot happen again and Government alone cannot take up the slack.
As someone who has worked for nearly three decades in the charity sector, the mobilisation of our volunteering spirit demonstrated itself through the mass response to the ‘Volunteer Responders Service’.
Over 750,000 applications were received through this scheme, demonstrating a national desire for people to step forward to help in our hour of greatest need. Once again, the Dunkirk type spirit that is part of our national history and heritage, rallied in the defence of our nation against an unseen enemy.
However, this phenomenon also raised a few troubling questions in a world where we are at greater risk from foreign-based threats. The fact is that Russia and China see destabilisation in Western nations as part of a strategy for gaining economic and military gain through subtly suppressing other nations.
We have known this for some time and the confidence of such state actors has grown, leading to attempts to kill human intelligence assets such as Sergei Skripal, on British soil. We would be foolish to think that cyber-attacks that seek to destabilise our social values and norms, will stop, or that such attacks into our infrastructure or against our national interests will be a thing of the past. Ally these with global pandemics and you can see why our country is still under-prepared by not utilising its greatest national asset – its people.
There were those who laughed when Boris Johnson invoked the spirit of the nation that defeated Hitler. I don’t think that there is anything laughable in that – when there are multivariate risks today and when we are now pretty much alone in our struggles post-Brexit.
Our transatlantic relationship is even more important as is a national volunteering structure that mobilises local communities at times of pandemic or national threat. Less “Dad’s Army” and more “Local Resilience Teams” that have a structure, local leadership, a standardised training programme and committed teams built around it.
Which is why we need to seriously think about a national funded and structured programme built for these local resilience teams. They can locally capture the willingness of the public to volunteer and ally themselves to the safety and security of local communities and to the nation.
We also need to get rid of one of the national pass-times that has become our Achilles Heel and that is self-deprecation and the “what-aboutery” that has become a natural reaction to such schemes.
We need focus, determined leadership at local levels and a national body of volunteers who are willing to be mobilised for the social good and who can work with the police and if need be, our armed forces at time of need.
It is a fact that we have grown used to the “good-times” of the 1980s and 1990s when all seemed so rosy and where the phrase “loads of money” did the rounds, as though things are always good.
Who can’t forget the Labour 1997 election broadcast theme of “Things Can Only Get Better”. We were lulled into a false sense of security and into believing that every generation would be better off than the last.
The reality is that this provided a false comfort blanket around us all and in some way, strengthened the view that the world owes us a living. It does not and the world has become much more complex and a more aggressive place in the struggle to gain resources.
Now is the time to rethink how we build these local resilience teams. Now is the time to take capture the human capital and good will that is out there. Now is the time to organise and structure communities so that we activate, mobilise and amplify the joint efforts of millions of people to ensure local social action at times of risk.
We should never again be in the situation we found ourselves in, like rabbits caught in the headlight of an incoming national risk.