by Chris Large, Senior Partner
This post is part of a series looking at new perspectives caused by the coronavirus, and the opportunities to lead stronger social movements. Click here to view the first post in the series.
Opportunity 4. Millions of pairs of eyes have seen a different future
The cat is out of the bag for just how much better our cities could be. Anybody who remembers our cities being this car-free and quiet are also old enough to draw their pension. The Highways Agency has reported the lowest traffic levels since 1955 and traffic-caused air pollution has plummeted. Today I witnessed parents cycling with their kids along London’s Regent Street.
For years, we have struggled to convey the wealth of ways that our lives can improve whilst we tackle environmental crises. The future we want people to have doesn’t include a lockdown, but it does include clean air, safety, more exercise and lower stress. We’ve had a glimpse of it. So too have the government, with Transport Minister Grant Shapps declaring “We can improve people’s health, create better places to live and travel in, and drive clean economic growth” because in the future “we will use our cars less” (Decarbonising Transport Plan, March 2020). The RSA and Food Foundation poll (April 17th) found that only 9% of people want to entirely return to normal. We will be doing everything we can to document it so that we can share the joy of this better balance between people and traffic.
Opportunity 5. Slowing down can be better and is possible
This lockdown-enforced national speed limit on life has given many pause for thought. It is possible to do a great day’s work from home (for suited jobs of course), but perhaps most importantly, people have had time to think. Many of us have not had to ask ourselves “what am I going to do today?” for years because calendars are almost automatically filled with work, social events, ferrying the kids around or shopping trips.
As we get back to business in the coming months, our campaigns will aim to encourage people to continue giving themselves permission to be slow and purposeful – in work and all obligations – as rushing around connects to mindless consumption and excess environmental damage.
Opportunity 6. Appreciating the important things in life
This pause for thought, combined with temporary limits, doesn’t change the basic recipe for high wellbeing. But two things have happened that are better for people and planet. Some people have found new low-impact ways to keep up their old high-wellbeing habits such as socialising with far flung friends, but without the flying. Also, the limited options and available time have channelled many people in to trying a new activity that boosts wellbeing and is environmentally sound. The New Economics Foundation described the five ways to wellbeing many moons ago, and it is these five building blocks for a healthy life that many have instinctively focused on during these restrictions. They are connect, keep learning, be active, take notice and give.
Houseparty – the app for a group chat – has been downloaded by 50 million people in a month to keep the connections happening. Ipsos Mori (April 2020) found that 1 in 3 have read more books, 1 in 6 have been crafting more, 1 in 9 have baked more bread, 1 in 12 have had more sex and 1 in 16 are learning a new language. Many of us treasure our daily walk, run or cycle and Ipsos Mori also found that almost four out of every ten 18-34 year olds are getting more exercise than a month ago. The double benefit for people and planet is obvious for some of these choices – a family get-together without driving or personalising an old dress instead of buying a new one – but we believe the big pay-off is that living in pursuit of the five ways to wellbeing will reshape our desires towards ‘being’ and away from ‘consuming’.
Progressive leaders can encourage people to recognise how they have incorporated this five-a-day for body and soul into their lives. It will look different for everyone, but the outcomes are similar for all – contentment, happiness and health without destroying the planet.
Opportunity 7. Will selflessness become a regular social aspiration?
The caring and selfless NHS workers, fundraising Captain Moore, and the Stockport Spiderman are incredible stories that are inspiring others to ‘do their bit’. The praise that these deeds are receiving could lead to profound societal change. As the “give” in the five ways to wellbeing, selflessness is certainly good for us.
If social affirmation continues to let people know that acting in this way is valued by those around them, perhaps we can be spurred on to ever greater collective efforts. Perhaps we will all praise the selfless parent who decides to organise a walking bus to get their kids and their neighbour’s kids to school instead of five families driving. How quickly 750,000 volunteered as official NHS responders shows that Brits don’t need many opportunities to ‘pay it forward’. Progressive leaders can help to shape social trends by profiling everyday heroes, and encouraging organisations to ensure that people have the flexibility to do good deeds when the lockdown is over.