Sketches from Spain: Finding inspiration on informal care community networks

More than 13 million people were suffering from vulnerability and social exclusion in Spain before the pandemics started, where more than 1,3 million were older than 65 [1]. Spanish lockdown has been one of the strictest all over the world, and so, health consequences as well as the economic crisis will be a major problem in the following months. While the situation seems hopeless and social problems are getting more visible, once againpopulation’s reaction and solidarity to this situation showed –and is showing - an incredible social response where social services do not arrive [2]. What can we learn from this situation? How can these community informal organizations be put into value in social policies and budgets? How could we generate value from care as part of our routines and daily lives?

Madrid, which is the Spanish municipality with the biggest impact of Covid-19, has shown a rapid answer from its citizens across the city and specially, in southern districts and neighbourhoods. This population once led numerous demonstrations decades ago for the promotion of good-quality housing as well as social equipments for the neighbourhoods [3]. Nowadays, many of them are older than 70 years old and they have showed the capacity of self-organization and look after others. The restriction of going out, even to walk around, both at home as well as in care homes, has put in value some initiatives considering the negative effects on health, which have been notorious indeed.

Senior citizens are probably the most vulnerable ones to Covid-19 impacts, especially those that were already suffering any cognitive decline. However, in many cases, seniors have demonstrated how to keep patience, establish a healthy daily routine while being at home, be sensitive and develop different ways to support each other, respecting the social distance to fight loneliness. Some of them took profit of this situation to set up their computers and social network accounts and learn skills to get updated more often, including Facebook and Twitter. Also, WhatsApp groups were organized with a round of calls daily, in order to identify any problem or vulnerable situation. They have shared sorrows as well as company and even some funny moments through letters, videos, voice messages and online meetings. Also several communities of neighbours showed support that has been much more visible in the common spaces of the buildings, like interior corridors and courtyards (Spanish corralas). People helped people and did not forget neighbours that were usually seen alone. In addition, worries about the people living in the care homes were shared during the panic situation and they got in contact several times with police and social services to seek the truth and get news from people that live there in order to give support to relatives and other friends.

Additionally, informal social networks have also rapidly organized themselves to provide basic resources to the most vulnerable families during lockdown. Food banks have been created as well as care informal networks to provide support and help in the neighbourhoods and support older people at home.

"The integration of care as a core strategy in local policies reinforces citizen participation and social cohesion and it prevents from loneliness and many other health problems. Will we learn from it and get into action on time?"

Once strict lockdown has passed, new links are kept. However, crisis and vulnerability are more visible now and social cohesion is being reinforced naturally.Some of the seniors have rapidly started to walk again around their neighbourhoods, with their never-failing energetic spirit, raising awareness and getting into action about health inequities, food banks and support for communities, in order to leave no one behind. They feel the environmental degradation as one of the major health problems in their neighbourhood, and now they have lived the sound of birds in streets, absence of traffic noise and good air quality, they are recalling older times and the need to take responsibility as citizens to look after others in order to recover their neighbourhoods, not only economically, but also environmentally.

They are now looking for safe places to start organising themselves. They want to be listened and taken into account and raise awareness about health problems in their urban areas from their point of view. Enabling healthy inclusive environments will help to foster the recovery from these months. The integration of care as a core strategy in local policies reinforces citizen participation and social cohesion and it prevents from loneliness and many other health problems. Will we learn from it and get into action on time?

Elisa Pozo Menéndez was due to present at our annual conference in March 2020. She is also researcher in Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, coordinator of the international educational projects UNI-Health (opens new window) (2019) and URB-HealthS (opens new window) (2020), in partnership with Newcastle University,  where she has recently finished her PhD research stay, University of Coimbra, Instituto Politecnico de Coimbra, Foundation for Innovation Research on Primary Health (FIIBAP- Madrid Salud) and ARUP.

If you would like to find out more about how the Housing LIN can support you plan strategically to build effective resident engagement and/or community networks (in line with our CollaborAGE’ principles), please email us at:

[1] European Anti-Poverty Network Spain (2019). AROPE (At-Risk-Of Poverty and Exclusion) report. El Estado de la Pobreza. España 2019 IX Informe anual sobre el riesgo de pobreza y exclusión. Retrieved from (opens new window)

[2] After the economic crisis in 2008, many community care networks appeared such as the platform anti-eviction, time banks or community canteens, which are still alive in different neighborhoods. More information in Segura del Pozo J. (2020) ¿Cómo sería una respuesta comunitaria al coronavirus? Cuartopoder. Retrieved from: (opens new window)

[3]ManzanoMartos J. (2015) Report about Orcasitas. pp. 630-640. Retrieved from: (opens new window)


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