Beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’: societal cohesion in the context of COVID-19

Belong and the University of Kent win funding to research the social implications of the COVID-19 pandemic

The Nuffield Foundation is supporting research into the social implications of the COVID-19 emergency.


This project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation.


The research, Beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’: societal cohesion in the context of COVID-19, will be led by Professor Dominic Abrams and Dr Fanny Lalot from the University of Kent’s Centre for the Study of Group Processes, in partnership with Belong – the Cohesion and Integration Network using data that emerges in real time. The research project will explore how societal cohesion is affected by the COVID-19 crisis. 

The project will build on existing data focusing on societal cohesion during Brexit. Data will be gathered through surveys of representative samples in Kent, Scotland and Wales, and five local authorities, and combined with qualitative data, including insights from community activists.

The project will test how cohesion is made worse or better, how and why individuals become involved or disengaged with groups and communities. This evidence will provide insight into how significant medium term pressures are borne within regions, communities and by individuals. 

The findings will provide a rich historical record of what is happening to societal cohesion as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to unfold, and will support policy to build resilience against future short, medium and long term challenges. 

The team is delighted to be working with the following organisations and local authorities as our local partners in this project, Walsall Council; Bradford Council; Waltham Forest Council; Blackburn with Darwen Council; Calderdale Council; Streetgames; Volunteering Matters; Jo Cox Foundation; Near Neighbours and Spirit of 2012.

Jo Broadwood, Chief Executive of Belong: The Cohesion and Integration Network said: 

“We are really pleased to be working with Dominic and his team and the Nuffield Foundation and are excited about the potential for this project to impact on both practice and policy in the future.  We think there is much that we can learn from the huge outbreak of kindness and connection in neighbourhoods across the UK and the findings will have relevance for strengthening social bonds, resilience and cohesion as we emerge from the crisis.” 

Professor Dominic Abrams, Professor of Social Psychology in the School of Psychology at the University of Kent said:

“We are delighted to have this opportunity to understand what is happening to people’s sense of connection and belonging, their priorities and feelings during this extraordinary time. We hope that this research will break new scientific ground whilst also contributing valuable evidence for policy.”

Alex Beer, Welfare Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said:

“During the massive social upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen many people and communities organise for the benefit of others, but some disadvantaged groups remain overlooked. This project will inform policy by investigating the impact of the crisis on social cohesion and the factors which shape people’s attitudes and behaviours.”

Alongside Belong and the University of Kent‘s School of Psychology, The Nuffield Foundation has also funded six other teams to conduct research on the social, cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic. These include the University College, London Reuters Institute, University of Oxford, Institute of Fiscal Studies and Ecorys UK Ltd.