This article presents a thematic analysis of 100 articles which appeared in ‘SW2020 under COVID-19’ online magazine, authored by people with lived experience, practitioners, students and academics. The magazine was founded by an editorial collective of the authors of this article and ran as a free online magazine during the period of the first UK COVID-19 lockdown period (March–July 2020). It contained a far higher proportion of submissions from the first three groups of contributors, above, than traditional journals. The analysis is organised under four analytic themes: ‘Hidden populations; Life, loss and hope; Practising differently and Policy and system change’. The article concludes by describing the apparent divergence between accounts that primarily suggest evidence of improved working relationships between social workers and those they serve via digital practices, and accounts suggesting that an increasingly authoritarian social work practice has emerged under COVID-19. We argue that, notwithstanding this divergence, an upsurge in activism within social work internationally during the pandemic provides a basis for believing that the emergence of a community-situated, socially engaged social work is possible post-pandemic.