The BBC asks Are We a Nation of Strangers?, and comments on the loss of what would have been called communtity spirit.
People would no longer leave their doors unlocked, or even leave a key with a neighbour, 36% not trusting anyone on our street. Now I don’t remember the fifties, when appparently we could all leave our doors unlocked (and surveys show people were happier), but even in my more recent youth we knew both our next door neighbours well, and had friends along the street and around the estate in general. My parents gave not one, but two neighbours sets of keys.
It is sad this is being lost, but it is inevitable. People are moving more. I don’t trust anyone, because I don’t know anyone. Gone are the days when families would live in the same area for generations. Gone too, are the oppurtunities to meet other locals. Pubs are disappearing, post offices and local shops are closing. Country villages and suburbs are simply commuter towns, somewhere to sleep and not to live.
People have the internet, and can meet like minded souls who share all their interests rather than meeting a variety of people in your neighbourhood through necessity. Some immigrant communities probably feel some of what we have lost still, but through a sense of being cut off and isolated. Research has showed that multi-ethnic/multi-cultural communities have fewer people volunteering and less social cohesion, as people lose a sense of belonging. A sense of local belonging and working to better your own area should not only be found at the expense of a disconnection with the wider community. This is summed up by the use of the word communities by politicians, often to mean ethnic minorities. You know what they mean when they talk of ‘consulting with communities’ or discussions with ‘community leaders’
So, what can be done? Strengthening local politics for one, give people the sense they can make a difference, give them more responsibility and they are more likely to take it. I normally don’t favour government inteference, and there is only so much can be done against market forces, but assistance for local services is one area. Many believe public is better than private in certain areas, but surely the best argument for public involvement is in areas the private sector is not involved in.
And help can be given by reducing regulations, as well as pure financial support. Ultimately though, it is up to all of us. We can moan about the loss of community, but a community is nothing without the people who make it up. If we want to trust our neighbours, we should go and talk to them. Chat to the man you recognise in the pub or shop, introduce yourself to the new arrival. It is not very English to be forward and friendly, but in these transient times, communities won’t form without our effort.