I grew up in an industrial town with a village green, a thriving market and street market, a throbbing high street with more pubs and butchers than you could throw a pig bone at. Then something happened to that community.
Whether it was the decline of heavy industry (it was trains and cotton where I grew up) or the fact that people started to realise their houses bought in the 1980s from the council were worth more by the 1990s and considerably more by the 2000s, I don't know. Those people moved away. In the 90s there seemed to be a dash from the cities to the towns and then to my small industrial hometown. The village green was built on and called The Green estate, laughably there were no green spaces. The vast tract of bog and moss that was a heritage site became home to our of town shopping and a football ground. The thriving market was badly maintained, it had leaked for over two decades and people turned their backs on the banter, the personalities and the bargains for sterile supermarkets, which were neither super or a market. Markets have their own beat, their own smells and their own way of cosseting you, most supermarkets remind me of a rat in a maze. Judging by the arguments that spill out in them, many people feel the same.
There were arguments a plenty on the street market, but rather than being a source of embarrassment, they were more sport, more spectator led, more about seeing whether she will put him in his place again. A popular saying when I was a kid was, 'Seen Mrs So-so by the fish mongers, she knows how to put her husband in his place, he won't be eating cod for awhile'. Now when we see such arguments, we squirm and pass judgement and that is how community has changed. This has been reflected in our spaces, or lack of them, fear that we may all get together and judge each other, and in turn, judge the powers that be. However, we have always judged, we have always said that our neighbours are more fur coat than knickers, that they do weird things in their sheds, that they exercise at odd hours (apologies for the euphemism but that was a common thing to hear when I was a kid, 'Up at all hours, exercising their marital rights'). For the record, our neighbours are great, when we are snowed in, we all make sure we have enough food. Last year when the heating was being fitted and the whole thing collapsed into a farce, our neighbour had us around for every tea for a week and fed us with no quibbles. She refused to allow us to sit in a cold house and told us to use her spare lounge as a home from home. That is what is missing from the heart of our community now, trust, kindness and willingness to give aid. Sometimes you find it online in gardening groups, sometimes you find it in the passing of strangers but as our community spaces have become more regimented, more about show than substance, we too have started to reflect that. As a nation, we have become more about show than community, more about the gadget, the next big want rather than the real need. A good neighbour is one that will help you cut wood, and in turn you will help them build a fence, a good neighbour offers to feed you and you offer to take in presents they don't want their family to discover before Christmas. This is community, it is give and take, it is sometimes judging each other and realising that we are all flawed and that no gadget, no amount of money, no great flurry of show and pomp will ever fix those flaws. Community accepts those flaws, for their is strength in a thriving community that talks, laughs and argues. Community breathes, it is not neat, easy to manage, it is something that grows, transforms and becomes stronger and bigger than the sum of its parts. Now, look at the spaces built for your community and you may see why your community is failing or succeeding in what is left to you by your council. The town I grew up is now a commuter belt, the people I knew, the markets I breathed in, the green spaces, all torn up for identikit houses stretching for mile after mile so people who never speak to each other, can drive their cars on to identical drives, walk to their identical doors and slam them shut against a dead community. There are no community spaces and what there is has signs everywhere telling people to keep off the grass and no loitering. Stop the rot, know your neighbours, know your community and accept it for what it is and make it grow again. Allow community the space it needs to grow and turn your back on those places that profess they are for the community but are only there for your wallets and purses.