Lives and livelihoods depend upon us all remaining resolute to two key pillars in the battle against Covid-19 at this critical time: Staying safe and staying local.

I’m not being unnecessarily dramatic by saying that. The message from the Scottish Government on this could not, after all, be clearer.

To stem the spread of coronavirus and prevent more lives from being lost, all of us across mainland Scotland should only leave our homes for essential purposes – and, when we do, we should stay as close to home as possible.

And to be there for our communities and the people at the heart of them as best we can, we should not only stay local, but support local businesses wherever we can – in person, online and in tandem with all government guidance.

Although businesses deemed non-essential cannot allow in-person access until at least the end of January, a great many of them have developed digital and delivery offerings over the past nine months, meaning there are more ways to support shops and services in your community than ever before.

In fact, a recent survey by the team here at Scotland’s Towns Partnership found that  that more than two-thirds of businesses (64.4%) have the capacity to take online orders, with almost a quarter of those questioned (22.3%) saying they had made that possible since the start of lockdown last spring.

So, just as local businesses are continuing to find new ways in which to be there for us, we must once again be there for them to ensure they can survive and be there for us in the post-pandemic world.

This means not just showing our support during these weeks of heightened restrictions, but permanently.

A resolution to back local businesses need not just be a New Year fad, but one that we can stick to –  one that makes a real difference to our town centres and high streets, protecting jobs and businesses.

While another period of tougher restrictions is not what any of us hoped for to mark the beginning of 2021, this remains a year that offers hope. That’s through the vaccines against Covid-19 but also in positively embracing the spirit of localism that has seen us through this pandemic – highlighted powerfully through the Scotland Loves Local campaign that STP has led, supported by the Scottish Government.

I have said many times that one of the great positives to emerge from this crisis has been appreciation that we have seen for the determined way in which those behind our local businesses have made a real difference to our lives.

Throughout the pandemic they have gone above and beyond to find safe ways of trading to keep us fed and ensure we have not gone without essential supplies.

That’s something that we cannot afford to forget as we look forward to a careful return to some kind of normality as we move through 2021 and start to forge a new future, undoubtedly framed by the lessons learned from coronavirus.

And it’s clear to me that it’s in all of our interests for localism to be at the heart of our future – and for us all to continue to think local first, not just out of necessity but because that has become our way of life.

Whether for groceries or gifts, days out or meals out, the difference we can make by turning to shops, services, cafes and restaurants locally – whenever we are safely able to – is tremendous, not only in surviving the challenges of Covid-19, but beyond them.

Money spent locally stays local for longer. By supporting local shops, producers and suppliers you are supporting your friends, family and neighbours. It keeps your community alive.

And that’s not just in-store. It’s critical that we also think local first when shopping online rather than automatically turning to the internet retail giants.

Beyond our immediate troubles, I am sure that 2021 will be a year that will allow localism to shine – and I am confident that if we harness the social, environmental and economic renaissance we have seen in our towns throughout the pandemic ambitiously enough, it could provide some of the answers to shape a more attractive future.

As more of us work from home, we need to embrace less commuting, growth in active travel, renewed citizenship and a reconnection with greenspace.

A fairer society has to be our priority. We must pursue community wealth building, maintain our reduced carbon footprint and prioritise building more resilience into food security and local supply chains, along with digital evolution and a well connected transport system.

I’m particularly excited about 20-minute neighbourhoods and the concept of having all of your basic needs – shops, health centres, work hubs and places to socialise – within a 20-minute walk, cycle or wheel from your home.

It’s all about greener, safer, more sustainable communities. Collaboration and innovation is going to be key.

To help fuel that, local businesses need us to get behind them. Our immediate support is vital to building a stronger Scotland.

Phil Prentice is Chief Officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership. Follow #ScotlandLovesLocal on social media. Twitter: @ScotlandsTowns

For more information about the campaign, visit: https://lovelocal.scot/

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