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“Give the public credit for the largely sensible post-lockdown behaviour”

Dr Chris Cocking, Principal Lecturer at the University of Brighton, says fears of widespread disorder from the easing of Covid-19 restrictions at the weekend were largely unfounded – as he embarks on a new research project.

The work, which is supported by the university’s Covid-19 Research Urgency Fund, is looking at the spontaneous volunteering and mutual collective support seen in Brighton and Hove and the South East in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Cocking is welcoming contributions from anyone who has been involved in support groups or helped others affected by Covid-19, with interviews to be conducted via Microsoft Teams.

The research follows the easing of restrictions in most of England on Saturday 4 July, which, among other sectors, permitted the re-opening of pubs, cafes and restaurants under certain conditions. Despite concerns that there could be widespread disorder in pubs and bars, which have been closed for over three months due to lockdown, incidents were generally low. Dr Cocking’s work on crowd behaviour has previously suggested that the public are not given enough credit for how they have conducted themselves during the pandemic.

He said: “Throughout Covid, the public have behaved much better than expected, and so we should stop demonising public responses to emergencies. Any problems we have faced can be better explained by unclear and inconsistent public messaging from authorities”.

Dr Cocking’s research will focus on why people were so keen to get involved in spontaneous volunteering to offer support to others during the pandemic and will investigate whether such shared identity and consequent mutual cooperation can endure in the medium to long term.

Over 750,000 people volunteered to help the NHS at the start of lockdown, but by May 2020, most had not formally been recruited to help.

Dr Cocking said: “This could be because of the vast number of local mutual aid groups that sprung up spontaneously in response to the outbreak, which made volunteering for the NHS somewhat redundant. There are an estimated 4300 groups currently connecting over three million people in the UK outside of national and local governmental structures.”

Chris’s previous work has explored the concept of short-term bystander intervention (‘zero-responders’) at one-off mass casualty incidents, using the Social Identity Model of Collective Resilience (SIMCR) from Social Psychology to explain such co-operation in terms of an emergent shared identity.

If you’ve been involved in volunteering and mutual support groups during Covid-19 in the South East and would like to contribute to the research, please email Dr Chris Cocking at

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Kerry Burnett • July 8, 2020

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