A focus for community?

 

The traditional view of the English village is one of a community with a Church, a pub, a Post Office and a Community Hall at its heart. This pattern was also  reflected in many twentieth century urban areas. Some great cities grew by spreading development into villages and hamlets nearby that already had these features at their core. Other new communities were added to edges of settlements with these community centres as part of the new design. Many people still support this idea of the 1930s/ 1950s village as the best way to organise communities. Any threat to a pub or Post Office is usually resisted strongly by a protest group, on the grounds that these are central institutions which can  strengthen and stimulate community life.

In reality communities are changing and modernising in ways which affect and modify this traditional view of community. In many places Anglican Church attendance has fallen substantially, to the point where most locals do not attend the Church for any normal service, let alone regularly. Many Post Offices have been closed, abandoned as government moves to cheaper more modern ways of distributing pensions and  benefits, taxing motorists  and providing services and as email replaces letters. There have been widespread pub closures, as the old pattern of men going down the pub after work to drink has been replaced by more domestic lifestyles and cheaper drinking at home.

In their place new ways of creating community have sprung into life. The coffee shop has made a great come back, reflecting some of its eighteenth century vitality as a place to go to talk to family and friends, and to meet others. The internet has created new online communities through Facebook and websites. Sports clubs, gym style classes and other keep fit activities in both public and private sectors have become part of the way people meet each 0ther and do something together. Religions other than the Anglican have built their own facilities and recruited more members. The local supermarkets also 0ften play an important role in letting people meet and talk, and backing local charities, schools and good causes. Schools continue to provide an important focus of community activity, drawing parents together who have at least one thing in common, children of a certain age. Some pubs adapt very well, becoming restaurants or offering other services and entertainments as well as places for drinks.

I am all for  the pub, the Church or the Post Office. They can and in many cases still do provide a community with some social focus and are valued services. We need to recognise, however, that they only fulfil this role if they are well supported and the local community uses them frequently. Meanwhile we also need to understand that many people today do not go to queue in the Post Office to meet new friends, nor expect the Post Office counter assistant to update them on local news. They may well find the coffee shop, the local webpages and the sport club more important ways of drawing them into their local area and mixing with more people.

In each case of a Post Office or pub closure we need to look at how much support it has and ask whether it can be a viable business. We also need to see what other ways there are for people to mix in their local communities, to meet, to greet, to do things together. Modern technology and changing lifestyles means there are many more.

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27 Comments

  1. oldtimer
    Posted August 3, 2014 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I think that shared interests provide the common element for communities. Evolving technology is shrinking time and distance and has already enlarged and changed the nature of communities.

    My grandchildrens` interest in Minecraft is an example. Skype and Google`s Hangouts are other ways the internet enables community (and family) contact that was not available even a few years ago. Go with the flow.

  2. Posted August 3, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    We have wine bars, many reasonably priced restaurants, our own theatre, our own swimming pool and gym, our own activity sports centre ,our own cricket ground, tennis courts, many pubs . The small area surrounding Holcombe Brook is packed with places to meet people. Even the church activities are thriving.

    There remains a stigma against single people. If we as single women talk to someone, we are creeping or trying to pick up. If we go into pubs we are classed as whores and jibed at by middle aged men with blue/ red noses and big bellies , calling us love.If we attempt to to join in a near conversation , we have backs turned against us and excluded as though we were slightly tapped. If we go into a restaurant the waiters shout out” table for one” why are you on your own and make a spectacle of us.We are excluded from holidays and have to pay double price. We are thrown out of some restaurants on a busy night as tables are meant for 2 or more.If we walk into a wine bar we are looked down upon and the ruder type shout ‘billy no mates’ If we go onto media to make friends we are told that there won’t be any direct conversation with us , but we can e.g Tweet along with them. If we go on to friendship sites , the only thing men want is sex. If we follow it up we are in danger of abuse.
    Single, particularly divorced women are simply not accepted . It is attitudes we need to change.

    • Posted August 3, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Margaret , try hosting a few small gatherings ; who knows , your sense of isolation might improve . Some divorced women are seen as a “challenge” to other married women and their underlying insecurity makes for the sort of jealousy you describe . The best solution is always to adopt an outgoing approach to people and events ; those who “want” you will respond positively , those who do not and act in the manner you describe , are not worth your company anyway ! . Society is founded upon human interaction and following the leader ; when the leadership is valued and respected the group response falls into line and remains orderly and acceptable to most ; obviously there are exceptions – usually they not worth bothering about . The boundaries of our larger society are pushed and strained by all manners of modern transport and aids ; the effects of these interventions provide opportunities to broaden ones view and to engage in a much wider sense ; the smaller society aspect that Dr.JR admires has been the bedrock of community behaviour for as long as I can remember , but modern technology has changed much of what we do and how we now behave ; at heart we are still the group animals of old .

      • Posted August 3, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for your advice. I have been on my own for over 3o years now and can handle it . It was made worse by working hours . We used to have camaraderie in the NHS. This is where we met our like minded friends.Unfortunately we were thrown out in our 40’s and moving around from place to place prevents the establishment of any professional or social relationship.

        By the way Bert when my husband and I were hosting many parties , everyone wanted to come, then when my luck went down , no one wanted to know.. That’s life Bert ! and for that matter. Who do I invite?

    • BobE
      Posted August 3, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Margaret, Im sorry about this and I understand the problem. Try to look at a site called “SeniorChatters.co.uk” It is populated worldwide by single/divorced/widowed ladies and only exists to let people talk together. Not a dating or any other motivation, it eases lonelyness in people who are alone.
      ((John I was not sure about writting this in, but I have no association with the site, and it does seem to represent a possibility for Margaret. ))

      • Posted August 3, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        I do not wish to be rude . but this is an important sociological point.
        Why should single people not be accepted?
        Why should we be made to feel inadequate if we are not with a crowd or in a couple?
        Would I ask a black person to change their skin to be accepted?NO
        Would I ask someone to change their religion to be accepted? No
        Why should people feel the need to find someone and anyone so they can go into a restaurant or other public place without being bullied ?
        I am proud to be single and there are many others rotting behind doors who are made to feel ashamed to come out of their own doors because they are on their own .
        Why should I try to create a group to be accepted .I applaud all those who have the courage to come out and say I am single and can go anywhere any time without having to take a book to avoid eye to eye contact with anyone or have a mobile and continually text so as to be made to feel comfortable.
        Society has to change and accept singles.There are too many of us and we have a right not to pretend to sexually attract for fear of being alone. This pretence in abominable when all types of sexuality are accepted into every strata , but we are abused for what we are. Single.

    • Bazman
      Posted August 3, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Difficult for single woman or just woman waiting for a friend to be in a pub and often not liked even by Landlady. They often look very nervous for the reasons you say. As a man I am in the pub alone even when I am talking to a person or a group and will gladly be short term escort for these woman and often find myself doing this after a indication from other woman to her that I am just the ‘usual nutter’ Anyone who believes that Britain is not a conservative society and woman are equal is deluded.

      • Edward2
        Posted August 3, 2014 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

        Again Baz, you breach politically correct language by stating “anyone who believes….woman are equal is deluded”

        Psst…women are equal.
        Its the law.

        • Bazman
          Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

          Not in ‘society’. There is no law just attitudes formed over centuries. Difficult to legislate on that.

          • Edward2
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

            When in a hole Baz…stop digging.

    • Mark
      Posted August 3, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      Get a dog and take it for walks. It’s a very social activity that provides opportunities to meet people without the overtones of bars etc.

      • Posted August 4, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        My point is not that I am lonely, because I am single. I will go where I want to and face whoever I need to . The point however is , everyone would cringe if a racist remark was made and be scared of the reprisals, yet if someone from a wine bar shouted aloud there is” psycho billy no mates on her own” it raises a laugh.This should be addressed as an important an issue as racism.

        The reality is that others feel uncomfortable in the presence of a single women. I do not feel the need to hide and snigger under the coat tails of another or crowd . The battle of single people who pay double for holidays , ousted out of restaurants should be taken up legally.

    • ian wragg
      Posted August 3, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      I’m pleased I don’t live in your area. They sound a right bunch of tossers.

  3. alan jutson,
    Posted August 3, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Strange how communities work.

    Just a simple observation.

    Those who are busy people who work or have worked most of their lives, tend to be the first to volunteer at their own cost, to help others in the community.

    Those who have plenty of time on their hands with money simply given to them, just tend to moan a lot, and offer not a lot to anyone.

    Human nature at work I guess, if you want something done, then give it to a busy person.

    Perhaps an over generalisation, but amazing how this holds up.

    Just examine the memberships of Voluntary organisations like:
    Lions Clubs, Rotary, Roundtable, 41 Clubs, Inner wheels, Unicorns, local church support units, youth clubs, etc, etc

  4. Mike Stallard
    Posted August 3, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    “Schools continue to provide an important focus of community activity”

    This definitely holds true for Primary Schools.

    Just try and get into a Secondary one though!

    But a good, true article otherwise.

  5. behindthefrogs
    Posted August 3, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    If we are to re-establish the community environment of local pubs and wine bars we need to reduce the availability of cheap alcohol to be consumed at home. This calls for minimum alcohol pricing and the stopping of alcohol being sold alongside food in supermarkets.

    New licences should be restricted to off licences instead of mini markets and garages etc. When these shops break the law by selling to under age customers or selling smuggled alcohol, their licences should be revoked. Supermarkets should be made to sell alcohol at a separate till from food.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted August 3, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Surely this is a matter which should be addressed by the local soviet? If comrades fail to attend the required number of community sessions they could be punished, initially for example by a reduction in their chocolate ration but in the case of the intransigents by suitable periods in a re-education camp.

    • ian wragg
      Posted August 3, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      We can’t do that as most of them are owned by foreigners and it would breach their “umanrites”.

  6. Posted August 3, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I think that the atomisation of the family has eroded community life in most western societies. IMHO the problem lies, not so much with post offices and pubs but with the undermining of the family.

  7. Douglas Carter
    Posted August 3, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    There is another kind of impromptu community oft-overlooked John, and its importance should never be underestimated.

    Hidden in plain sight are the many hundreds of thousands who walk their dogs regularly, winter or summer, rain or shine. They form a benign local community of people who get to know each other by sight (and by absence), give mutual friendship and understanding (in particular to people who have no-one else) and such people will frequently come into contact with each other more regularly than they will with their close relatives. They come to know their local patch in great detail.

    Armed with mobile phones and cameras – and possessed of the natural persistence the hobby demands – they will frequently act as unpaid and unappreciated security guards for otherwise unloved patches of scree and wasteland all too often used as fly-tipping grounds or by drug abusers.

    Allowing people peace and freedom the continuity of that remains an important part of that ‘community’ spirit – indeed where communications technology and types of work culture continue to evolve, it’s a pastime community which will become more valuable than less. We’re easy to forget, but we contribute a surprising amount of benefits. Such people are more important than you might realise.

  8. Bazman
    Posted August 3, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    The area where I live is seeing a large influx of outsiders in particular from London. They are surprised at any humanity shown to them, say if you have a lot of shopping and a child with you and they just have a bottle of wine in a often slow discount supermarket and you let them go in front. Says a lot about London. Different faces every week and I know a lot of faces around her. many of the locals have been pushed out either by themselves or high property prices.
    The newer areas have few facilities and have more problems. The older areas which are seen as a bit rough are now becoming much more desirable. With many pubs for all tastes, and every other service such as small shops and takeaways. My village/area is getting a discount supermarket soon. That will be shock for the traditional ones and in particular one with sky high prices that not seen a ‘posh’. Also a large pound type shop is coming. Wife loves plastic crap.

  9. The Prangwizard
    Posted August 3, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I am blessed with living in a village which has the pub, the shop, the Church and the Hall, as well as a village green, primary school, allotments, and a cricket pitch. And neither is there a noisy road nearby, so it is lovely. We will however be getting about 40 new houses imposed with the quota of ‘affordables’ among them. The shop and pub will benefit I hope but our school had only one vacancy last time I checked so 40 extra houses is bad news. The present mix of people works well, we are all very much like each other and I for one hope it stays that way. There are many here who are worried, however, and they are probably right. The villages around are having many more houses forced on them and one or two will without doubt be spoiled.

    The virtually uncontrolled immigration we have had forced upon us is shameful. And I do not think there is much will amongst the Metro Elites to do much about it, just enough maybe to take the heat out of protest to hope to get re-elected.

    The policy of ‘add-on’ may work in the initial phase in some places but there are hundreds of thousands more houses planned over the next 20 years. It is a daunting prospect if room isn’t made in the developments for ‘the small shop, the local pub, the Post Office…’ – sadly I don’t think Churches will be built, but mosques are spreading. Whose nation will it be then?

  10. David
    Posted August 3, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Wokingham is currently undergoing a frenzy of housebuilding which will change the character of the town forever. Having lived in and enjoyed the many things the place has to offer for many years I often wonder how its separate identity will survive. Of course, I don’t view the new developments as all negative (my own children may need to find a place to live here before long) but those things you mention that help bind a community may not be evident in the new estates, it’s residential property that seems to bring in profits for developers with least fuss. A friend who lives on a new development in an adjacent Borough comments on the lack of facilities to meet other inhabitants apart from a large gastro-pub. It seems very sad to me and I can’t see the new “Wokinghammers” feeling much affinity to our Town.

    Reply When I first became Wokingham’s MP Woosehill had recently been built and Lower Earley was in build – both very large extensions. They both became pleasant areas to live in and add to the Borough. Both have a sense of community. I worked with the Council to scale back the build rate then, as I felt we needed some control over the rate of urbanisation.

    • Kenneth R Moore
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Interesting reply , I wonder where you stand on optimum population size, sustainability and limits to growth in your area. It does seem to be your blind spot. .It can’t be as simple as saying X development was good so Y development must also be good too but that seems to be what your saying.

      It’s not so much the rate as the overall size of developments that is the problem – it doesn’t matter if we get to an overcrowded hell in 5 or 25 years the result will be the same.

  11. lifelogic
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    Things are often viable businesses but the property is worth more for development. As the post office has some monopolies they know customers will just have to use their larger branch and queue up there.The like the NHS, Schools HMRC and government have no need to respond to customers so they do not.

    • behindthefrogs
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      When we had a local post office, although there was frequently a queue, one usually knew either the person in front or behind in that queue. Despite the queues the local office was closed and we are now forced to wait in even longer queues in the central post office where the only conversation is complaints about the length of the queues.

      How can any organisation that always has queues of customers be efficient? The British economy must losing many man hours while people queue at their central post office.

  12. Posted August 4, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    In conjunction with this, we need to ask ourselves what the minimum viable population is for a rural community. If you live in splendid isolation in a mansion, you need to be rich and mobile. For ordinary folk, hamlets are probably no longer viable (if they ever were). I support Nick Ridley’s opinion that most villages can take the addition of a few houses and that it will do them good. Having financially viable shops close by is a plus although people running big retail malls in Basingstoke, Reading etc will not thank me for that. Dormitory towns and villages are a bit sad and boring.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
    Published and promoted by Thomas Puddy for John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU
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