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  • Writer's pictureEmmet Regan

What public services can learn from other responses to the pandemic

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

Emmet Regan argues that the experience of COVID-19 has demonstrated that and that public services have lots to learn from other sectors. A version of this article was originally published in the MJ on Tuesday 9th March 2021.

Over the course of the pandemic, there have been some incredible examples of local communities coming together to work with each other for the betterment of their area. This has been organic and due to conditions on the ground. People have seen the impact that a focused and enabling state can make.

An enabling state

The coming months provide a huge opportunity to build on that work and to learn lessons from elsewhere to accelerate this change.

COVID-19 has laid bare so many inequalities in populations across the country, especially health inequality. For decades, Government has struggled with how to engage with people on the agenda of wellbeing, be that physical or mental.

Political parties of all persuasions have sought to tackle issues like mental health, childhood obesity and diet but with limited success. In order to build back better, our collective wellbeing must be at its core.

In 2019, Tom Kerridge, the well-known chef and restaurateur, created a TV show called Fresh Start. The premise of the show was to bring eight families together from a variety of backgrounds to work with them to improve their over-arching health and wellbeing. Thought was given as to how best to work with the grain, being supportive, but also empowering.

The show worked with the families for 12 weeks and the results were impressive. It must be acknowledged that the sample size was small but all families recorded improvements in weight loss and diet. More importantly, they recorded spending more time with each other and generally feeling better. Why was this programme so successful at changing people’s behaviour and habits?

If I use the phrase ‘PE with Joe’, it will either fill you with a sense of joy or dread depending on your love of burpees. Joe Wicks, the effervescent, bearded fitness guru beamed himself into millions of homes across the country and across the world. It is not that he began his work during the pandemic, Mr Wicks talks about his ten-year overnight success.

In the years previous to the pandemic, he had been doing incredible work to get people of all ages active.

How did someone get millions of people moving together at 9am where countless Governments and initiatives have failed?

An active state

From both these case studies, there are some common themes that I believe can be looked at to see how they should apply to public services. One of the standout features from both is the power of community to sustain meaningful and lasting change in individuals’ lives. Tom Kerridge brought people together to share their endeavour and rely on each other for support and resilience. PE with Joe was built around community, families working together, using social media to communicate and share their successes and challenges.

As we know, sometimes public services are prone to the use of acronyms and jargon. Language is so important to how people engage and interact with public services.

Joe Wicks’ accessible approach did not rely on the language of weight lifting and calisthenics but rather jumping around and enjoying it. People can be easily put off with impenetrable language and testimonials words accessible can change minds and in turn improve lives.

Both Messrs Wicks and Kerridge removed barriers to entry to get people moving and thinking about their well-being. No gym equipment is required for PE with Joe. The Fresh Start show relied on food people had in their cupboards and fridges. Removing barriers allows those who needs services most to access them.

Finally, both took a strengths-based model to working with people, focused on what they could do not what they couldn’t.

Public services undoubtedly face unique challenges compounded by a year of immense hardship. 2021 will not be easy but it will be year of transition, now is the time look at best practice across all sectors to see the lessons that can be learned.

Community, accessibility, removing barriers to entry and a strengths-based model can surely help us build back better.

To hear more our our work contact Emmet on


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