SURF – Scotland Regeneration Forum – is facilitating an alliance of front line community groups, local authorities, national agencies and funders in direct response to COVID 19’s disproportionate impact on the poorest.

The clear evidence is that the crisis has increased the gap between the haves and have-nots and laid bare the fragility of social and economic mores. If wealth is the greatest shield from infection and serious illness[1], then disadvantaged communities are the most exposed.

SURF’s network feedback on what is happening on the front line, shows these same communities responding nimbly and effectively to immediate needs. The scale of the challenge remains extreme and will not be quickly resolved despite the work of individuals and agencies in the most disadvantaged of areas who have been stepping up, adapting and responding with impressive creativity, cooperation and resilience. Meanwhile the larger scale, national regeneration partners, are striving to support local community responses in the most appropriate and sustainable way.

SURF’s task now is to help Scottish Government, and other key regeneration partners, to connect with, learn from and sustain our frontline examples of cooperative resilient action in place based communities. SURF is providing the practical basis for us all collectively to build back better.   It will do so by:

Promoting and Connecting

Through its unique regeneration network connections and communications, SURF has already identified and promoted a wide range of positive responses to the impact of COVID 19 at local, regional and national levels. Those practical examples and creative innovations are informing our partners’ development of policies and distribution of processes and resources.

Sharing and Learning

SURF’s gathering of frontline challenges and successes, synergies and disconnects celebrates useful, effective, and often innovative and pragmatic responses, to the crisis. Those ground level reality checks, sit alongside the work of our national partners. Via those local/national connections, SURF will produce rapid feedback and examples for an expanded Cross Sector Connector Service, beyond its original Local Authority membership. A refocused SURF Awards process will also supply inspiring and informative insights.

SURF will present analysis of key lessons learned and a look at the further potential of those place based realities, to regeneration colleagues in national and local government, and to other policy, practice and academic partners.

SURF’s network will benefit from targeted and inclusive information presented in accessible formats to encourage discussion and provide opportunities to share expertise and learning. Those formats will include SURF’s regular on-line bulletins, special COVID 19 response bulletins, the SURF Journal publication, one to one information exchanges and small group sessions and debates via Zoom etc.

Shaping a better future

The COVID 19 crisis has exposed the vulnerability of Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities, but it has also demonstrated the capabilities and resourcefulness of those same communities to act in support of each other. But the ‘immune systems’ of the poorest people and places have been dangerously depleted by years of disadvantage. Their ability to stay mobilised, to sustain a ‘war footing’, without substantial support is limited.

To build back better will require unprecedented levels of collaboration and cooperation to ensure that these impressive local efforts are not lost with a return to the old ’normal’.  SURF’s distinctive skill in linking and coordinating place based groups and individuals with national policy and funding agencies, will be key to directing and investing support where it can be most effective in embedding the resilience already demonstrated by those communities most at risk.  SURF will do this through the expansion and re-focusing of our Alliance for Action programme, to ensure clear communication and facilitated collaboration across our network.  That will involve further enhancing the scope and purpose of existing SURF collaborative forums, such as its originally Local Authority focused Cross Sector Connector Service and its Heritage and Creativity Alliance.

The goal is to address the long standing inequalities and disconnections that degenerate communities, and to invest in building more responsive, resilient and cooperative local economies and social and cultural interactions.  SURF will be consulting widely in developing strategies and policies towards achieving that goal. They will be at the core of SURF’s 2021 Manifesto for Regeneration which will be presented and debated in advance of the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

Comparing and cooperating

Many of the actions already taken in Scotland may contribute towards building back better, but however impressive those frontline responses have been, SURF’s cross-border and international connections will ensure that our learning does not end at our borders. SURF will continue to be part of international research and collaborative studies across Europe and beyond, to ensure that our knowledge and skills set continue to reflect the best of worldwide learning. (More information on some of SURF’s international work here:

In Conclusion

SURF’s work programme over 2020 will be centred on four main complementary initiatives. These have been shaped in response to the lived reality and expressed needs and insights from across its network of over 3000 individual contacts.  In delivering them SURF will drawing on and connecting the skills, resources and initiatives of its 300+ cross-sector member bodies and the practical experience and knowledge that they are rapidly developing in response to respond to the pandemic crisis. The four main initiatives are:

  • An expanded Cross-Sector Connector Service. SURF’s existing local authority focused forum, will be extended to support regeneration practitioners from all sectors in better service coordination and learning exchange. Its interactive programme will promote reality based Place Principle collaboration, and practical approaches to building back better. In building a balanced cross sector membership, SURF will invite the participation of key contacts in relevant public, community, voluntary and private sector organisations. Resultant shared learning, will be widely shared via SURF’s website and regular Bulletins.
  • SURF’s high profile, and now refocused, Awards process will identify, promote and connect leading examples of innovation in community based activities that are most successfully integrating COVID-19 responses. For more detail about SURF’s Awards programme and information about how to be involved, go to:
  • SURF will be drilling down in and across SURF’s place focused ‘Alliance for Action’, cross sector partnerships to enhance cooperation to urgent challenges and longer term opportunities The practical experience and knowledge from these five economically challenged communities, will be shared across Scotland. For more detail about SURF’s Alliance for Action programme go to:
  • SURF’s Heritage and Creativity Alliance (SH&CA) will strategically connect the resources and skills of ten national agency partners with COVID-19 place-based challenges. Using culture and heritage to enhance participation and assets. For more detail about SH&CA, go to:

For more information on SURF, its work and how to get involved, please  contact

To stay informed and receive SURF E-bulletins sign up to the SURF Mailing List HERE


[1] Devi Sridhar (18.5.2020) Advisor to Scottish Government on COVID 19 and Professor and Chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University. Interview, Daily Telegraph.

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