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 There have been widespread pub closures, as the old pattern of men going down the pub after work to drink has been replaced by more domestic lifestyles and cheaper drinking at home.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.