How Covid can change society for the better – Ewan Aitken

Understanding that caring and compassion brings out the best in us all needs to continue after coronavirus crisis, writes Ewan Aitken.

By Ewan Aitken
Friday, 17th April 2020, 12:30 pm
Using Zoom to hold meetings and stay in touch with friends and relatives has become commonplace (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

‘I will Zoom you tomorrow,’ is a sentence I would not have known the meaning of a month ago but is one I now use on a daily basis. It is one of the many legacies of this crisis which will last beyond it and hopefully will help make life easier and work more efficient. It’s not that I will never need to go out to another meeting – one of the other Covid-19 legacies will be a deep appreciation of getting outside and into the world – but it might help cut down on the number of meetings I travel to, which will save time, money and the environment that we are perhaps coming to better appreciate.

Another legacy we all hope will continue is the incredible generosity of spirit and acts of kindness in communities across the country, neighbour and stranger looking out for ­neighbour and stranger.

Cyrenians have been the recipient of this generosity in donations of time, food and money from people and organisations right across the country for which we are very grateful indeed.

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Ewan Aitken is the CEO of Cyrenians Scotland

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It’s meant we have been able to cook 700 healthy ready meals a day, redistribute up to 40 tonnes of food a week to communities across central and south east Scotland, support more than 200 rough sleepers into hotels in partnership with three other charities, support those in our residential communities, offer remote support to families in conflict and people struggling with isolation, and much more. We’ve even managed to get some young folk into college and others into jobs. The generosity of others has meant we can keep doing what we do.

My heartfelt thanks go to everyone who has supported us in this crisis. That includes those currently walking, running, cycling (and more) to raise funds with our #stepUP challenge, a fun way to keep active while you stay at home, and make your daily exercise count that much more. You can find out about it at

I also want to thank those charities which have, as I have been made aware recently, chosen to stop their fundraising so that organisations like ours offering frontline support during this crisis can get the support we need. This is an incredible act of generosity and sacrifice and I want to thank each and every one of them. Their decision to step back so the focus can be on those in need in the crisis will literally save lives. Our thanks from Cyrenians to those across the sector is heartfelt. I hope we can reciprocate their support in some way once this crisis is over.

The fallout will, however, take much longer to overcome. We are going to need this generosity of spirit to continue and to grow; in fact we will need it not to be the exception but the norm. If there is to be a real and lasting legacy from this crisis it needs to be the acknowledgement of our interdependence, the recognition of how it is community and not commodity which fills the human soul, and the understanding that it is caring and compassion, not competition, which brings the best out in us all. If the predictions are correct and the economy is going to shrink by around 25 per cent over the next two or three years, two months’ lockdown will seem like a very short time indeed.

At the heart of Cyrenians’ way of working is the building of trusted relationships, formed through time, patience and seeing people as people, not as problems or through labels.

Much of what has been achieved in this crisis has been because decisions have been made on trust and the ­barriers of process for process sake have been lifted. We can ride out this storm if we keep our focus on ­building that trust and nurturing relationships of community and ­generosity. That would be a legacy worth waiting for.

Ewan Aitken is the CEO of Cyrenians Scotland.