IT has become fashionable nowadays in the UK to talk about our broken society, our broken economy and our broken politics. Community and family breakdown, welfare dependency, failing schools and rising crime have all become synonymous with a broken Britain.
With such a negative assessment of Britain, you would be forgiven for thinking that “community spirit” was a ghost of a bygone age.
It is true that our communities have changed. Gone are the days when we could leave our homes unlocked, when we knew most of our neighbours and when children could play safely on the street without fear of being run-over by a car. And gone is the time when the spirit of the Blitz helped us to cope with the massive bombing raids on our neighbourhoods during the Second World War.
Communities often experience their finest hour when confronted by extreme hardship. In November last year, community spirit prevailed in flood-hit Cumbria when the worst rainfall ever recorded in Britain devastated the town of Workington. Residents helped out by delivering hot drinks and refreshments to the local church for their neighbours who had been forced from their homes by flood water.
In recent times, a new “green community spirit” has been gaining momentum. In 2009, the villagers of Newton-le-Willows, near Bedale in North Yorkshire, were rewarded for their strong sense of community in promoting green living in their village, which included organising a green festival and car-free day. Newton-le-Willows won the title of the nation’s village of the year.
Local communities are beginning to wake up to the threat of climate change and peak oil – the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum is reached. A recent report funded by Virgin boss Richard Branson and other British business leaders warned that peak oil will result in oil shortages, insecurity of supply and price volatility. This will destabilise economic, political and social activity within the next five years. The “oil crunch” is expected to hit the poorest sectors of society as the price for travel, food, heating and consumer goods rises.
A grassroot response to climate change and peak oil has been the “transition towns” movement. There are currently 278 transition towns and cities spanning 12 countries, and all working to raise awareness of green living and to become better equipped to deal with the implications of a changing climate, energy shortages and a possible collapse in the global economy.
Local groups develop practical projects such as community-supported agriculture, car clubs, local currencies, neighbourhood carbon reduction clubs, urban orchards and re-skilling classes. Together they are preparing to reduce their energy use and become more self-reliant.
In Todmorden (Yorkshire, UK), there is a community campaign to grow local food. The Incredible Edible initiative involves businesses, schools, farmers and the local community who come together to increase the amount of local food grown and eaten in the town. What began as herb gardens has now evolved in planting vegetables and trees around the town including two orchards. Public flowerbeds have been transformed into community herb and vegetable patches.
In York (Yorkshire, UK), six community groups have come together to take the York Green Streets Challenge. They have all pledged to reduce their joint carbon footprint by 10 per cent in 2010. The groups include three neighbourhood teams, two primary school teams and a church team. Members of the team meet each month to discuss what particular action they are taking to reduce their carbon footprint and to share experiences and information. One team has event started to grow their own vegetables on a shared allotment.
Emma, a member of a green street neighbourhood team, says the initiative has had “a wonderful effect on neighbourliness, bringing together people from both sides of the busy road. After 20 years living here, I suddenly know more neighbours than ever before. We all have a lot more people to nod to on the street“.
These local environmental initiatives demonstrate that community spirit is alive and well. People are taking power in their own hands to make a difference by acting locally and thinking globally. Community action will become even more prominent in the future as we are forced to adapt to changes both in our climate and energy supply.
The notion that Britain is broken assumes it was once complete and intact. British history is scattered with a litany of socio-economic problems that needed to be resolved, and 21st century Britain is no exception. Despite Britain´s problems, there are other countries in a worse situation.
So let us focus on what binds a nation together rather than
what divides it. Let us celebrate the fact that throughout local communities there is, and always has been, an inherent willingness to support each other when the going gets tough.
© Gary Haq 2010
To comment click on the title.