A number of factors have been responsible for eroding community over the years. We did not just wake up suddenly one morning and decide... This community concept is not working any more, let's abandon it. It has happened because of a variety of factors each contributing to the steady decline year on year, slowly, almost imperceptible in its progress... but, like a slow tide coming in, over the long years, culminating in where we are today.
So what exactly has happened? what are these factors that have taken their toll on community? what have been the effects of dwindling community? why is it important to rebuild them? ... and, how are we going to do it?
To understand how community has been eroded we have to look back through the last 100 years. We must also look at the different types of communities that exist and what are the factors that have led to their decline. There are three main categories of communities that we all belong too. We are involved in many more than 3 for sure, but they fit inside these main categories. These are :-
- Public community
100 years ago or so it was not uncommon for people to have huge families. When talking to the more senior generation it is fairly commonplace to hear, I was the youngest of 14 children... or I am the only survivor now of 9 siblings. People had much larger families. These families of course gave rise to huge extended families running to over 100 people in 3 generations.
During this period, people also tended to not move very far. Transport was in its infancy, people didn't have cars, and consequently families grew up in the same city, town or village. This was a huge support network of related people that could be relied on to help if needed. Where 4 children would have been considered a small family back then, today, this is a large family. People are also much more mobile than ever before. Families are now not only spacially distributed across the country, but internationally too.
For the past 60-70 years and definitely up till the end of the 20th century the default work mode was to 'get a job'... and if you could find a job in a large secure company then so much the better. Talk was of good career opportunities and maybe having 3 or 4 jobs in a lifetime. There were many more manufacturing companies and often people stayed with their chosen career and a company for 30+ years.
Larger companies had 3,000+ people working for them. Located in a city or town, the majority of the people working there lived in the town, this was another huge community of people linked by a common thread... the company where they worked. This was a support network that came after the family. People you would see every day and conequently built up solid relationships over time. People you could rely on in a time of crisis.
This public community is the wider community of local people. This consists of people that you came into touch with through perhaps a joint interest but would otherwise not necessarily know. Typical places where the 3rd community thrived are where people from any background or walk of life could assemble and have conversations. Four spring to mind... The Church, meeting at least once a week and often more. The local community centre, providing a central place for people living close together to gather for local fetes, festivals, shows etc. The pub, this was a place to talk with other local people, share connections, learn about other people in the local community. Lastly, the town centres or markets. This brought people together on Market days in a central location, to buy and sell and catch up with local news and gossip.
What has happened to all of the above?
Whilst reading the above it would probably have dawned on you that the world isn't like it was. Things have changed significantly. Some of these changes started decades ago, others, more recent. But the changes have been relentless. If you couple all of the above with some other significant changes below we can then take a look at the effect all of this has had on our communities... and remember it is these communities that are the glue to our social wellbeing.
This has been a cancer that has been spreading since the 70's. It runs through everything that we now consider 'normal society' and it is probably at its worst in our schools. We have been succumbed into comparing ourselves with others and striving to be better than our neighbours, competing to be seen as a winner, to be successful, and the measurement criteria? ultimately money and what we have, but in our schools, colleges and universities this is translated as qualifications. Of course the better the qualifications are, then the better you are, and the more successful (amount of money you earn) you will become.
Society today is teaching us to divide and conquer, to look out for number 1, and to value ourselves by what we have, not who we are. It is no wonder we are falling apart. We are actively breaking down community and those trying to rebuild it are viewed as a bit 'strange'... often asked... why would you be doing this, rebuilding community?
Let us recap and review
Families are much smaller than ever before and spatially distributed. Often there is little on the ground support from community no. 1 anymore. The number of large companies employing thousands has dwindled to very low numbers compared to the past. Many more people are now running their own businesses working from home, isolated and often quite lonely. Job security (... long term employment with a single organisation) is now almost a thing consigned to the history books. This 2nd community almost entirely wiped out. And the 3rd community, bumping into people at public meeting places? The church... still doing great work in the community but serving an ever decreasing percentage of the population. The community centres? Very few remain and their role is now changed such that it doesn't provide the same function as before. The pubs? It is much cheaper to buy drinks from the supermarket and more people are choosing to drink at home because money is tight. The high streets and markets are all struggling with retail parks, supermarkets and online companies offering lower prices out of town or via the internet.
Many would add that with the Internet there is now no longer a need to go out at all, and that almost all our needs can be served through computers, tablets and smart phones right down to the weekly shopping. Everything that we are doing is designed so that we have no need for community, we are ok on our own, our small families and chasing the next £... But... are we happy? ... honestly?
If you visit a Hospice and you talk to people who have a short time left on this earth and listen to the words they speak and any regrets they have about their life. Or if you go along to a funeral and you take a look at the close family of the deceased, what do you see and hear? In both cases you will not hear mention of... I wish I had got a better job, wished I'd worked harder, wished we'd had a bigger house or better car... you won't hear any of those. What you will hear is... I wish I had spent more time with my kids, I wish I'd had the chance to tell my sister, brother, mother, father how much I loved them... I wish I had repaired that relationship... I wish I'd done more with my life instead of just working and chasing money...
What is really most important in our lives is people. People and relationships, and yet we have been steered away from this by those that would have us buy more, the latest this or that, and who have created an epidemic of consumerism. We have been sold that our lives will be better the more money we have and the more stuff we have in our lives. This serves only one group of people, those providing the products and services we are lured into buying whether we really need them or not. The rest of us are caught in the trap of chasing the next pay check to buy more of the stuff we 'have to have' to keep up with everyone else... our self worth is now what we wear, the car we drive, the technology in our hand and the size of our house. And to get more of this, we have to compete and take more out of the system for ourselves... sorry someone has to lose...
What we have isn't working for the majority...
The road we are on is not working for most of us. This is not about politics, it's about people and relationships
, it is about observing what is going on around us and choosing to take some action. What action though? ... I am only one person, what difference can I make? ... try sleeping with a mosquito and asking whether someone small can make a difference.
There is a great deal of unfairness in the world today. Whilst a few have ever expanding hordes of reserves there are a great many others struggling to make ends meet and survive. But if we were to work together, to support each other, look for opportunities to help others less fortunate than ourselves, or have a need that we can help out with what a difference that might make. The reason we can't help at the moment is firstly, it is quite difficult to actually make a contribution, the mechanisms in place to volunteer are just too difficult and cumbersome, and secondly, lack of information and knowledge... we just don't talk to each other any more, and there is no common public space where we can meet and talk to find this stuff out and then connect people.
Link4Growth is a platform created to rebuild the 3rd community space. To provide a space for local people to once again come together and begin having conversations. To bring people together from all walks of life, from whatever background or status so that we can begin to rebuild connections and rebuild community... one person at a time. Everything starts with a conversation. It is a simple concept and it is working already with circa 100 events being hosted each month up and down the country. It's not what you know it is who you know... old, true statements that are more relevant today than ever before.
Link4Growth hosts events at different times of the day so that everyone can at least come to something. There are no costs to attend so that the focus is kept away from money and is accessible to all. We hold these informal drop in events wherever possible at local independent coffee shops or public spaces so that we support local businesses and the local economy ( #L4GBuyLocal ).
So what action can you take? ... You can come along and be part of the conversation if there are events already in your town. If there is nothing in your town currently, you can start one. Just get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or via the website form here. You can also join in the conversation online. We have a nationwide forum http://www.2020bclive.net that you can join in with... we are also on all the social media platforms... Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter ( @link4growth ) and Google+.
The community rebuilding programme exists, it is happening already, the only question left is... would you like to be part of it? ... if the answer is yes, then take action... contact us and let's get started.