Before I launch into my thoughts on Communities, I have to say that I am not accepting any more into the Sisterhood of the Travelling Sketchbook. I have been blown away by the enthusiasm and delight of people. However there needs to be a cut off point for two reasons. Firstly, I am not sure that there will be enough pages in the Sketchbook! Secondly, it will take a while to travel the world, and it is not fair to make those Sisters at the end to wait longer. We can always have Volume 2 at some point, or someone else can start another!
Okay, on to Communities…..
I am sure you have been in conversations along the lines of ‘communities are not what they used to be’, with the inference that they either don’t exist or are inferior. I have been involved in a couple of those conversations and they have got me thinking about communities now days.
Pam and my Fella were talking about this in the coffee shop the other week. Pam came to Australia from Greece as a young child and has strong memories of her village community. She was telling us how women would get together and bake or sew, how the old folks were looked after in the house and how life was very communal.
My Fella grew up in the East End of London before and after WW2. His memories are of a strong community too. He was rather a scamp and was always getting pulled up by neighbours. Women feature strongly in his stories and would help each other, especially new mothers, giving advice (probably unsolicited!) and practical help.
Both of them went on to remark how different things are, and how we are the poorer for that. Of course things are different. Both the Greek villages and the East End of London were quite different neighbourhoods to ones in Melbourne [and I presume elsewhere, but I can’t speak for them]. They were tight neighbourhoods, a geographical closeness enhanced by a less mobile population. Few cars there to whisk someone off to work on the other side of town. Add in WW2 and the Blitz that the Fella lived through, and you have a strong, close knit community.
So maybe we don’t have the same degree of neighbourhood, although the Fella is the link in many of our neighbourhood interactions. He greets people in the street, stops and chats, checks in on our elderly Greek neighbour, keeps an eye open for unusual happenings and worries if he hasn’t seen old Stan for a while. In fact he is the model for How To Be A Good Neighbour, and I love him for it. Do you feel that you have a strong neighbourhood?
Maybe the nature of our communities are changing. Maybe instead of being based around streets our communities are based around the needs and wants of people. Okay, maybe neighbours don’t knock on the doors of new mothers to see if all is well, but I think that playgroups build up supportive relationships. Schools and kindergartens create strong communities around them. Likewise with sports groups and religious groups.
Instead of being attached to one neighbourhood-based community, we are involved in various communities. Mine are my family, my art world, my book club, my other friends, and indeed my neighbourhood. Add in micro-communities, like my pilates group and my yoga class. In both cases we only meet for an hour each week, but the bonds are there.
And, of course, communities now don’t even need to be in the same country. The Internet has allowed people to get together for all sorts of reasons. My blogging world is a strong community of people that I enjoy hanging out with. Again, the bonds and relationships are there.
Is this a change for the worse? I don’t think so, it is just different. I am genuinely curious about this, and would love to know what you think. What are the communities around you like, and how do they differ from the ones you grew up with?
5 replies on “Communities, then and now ~ discuss”
I grew up in the depth of the English countryside, where we couldn’t see or hear our nearest neighbours. Despite that, we knew the name, business, number of children, pets and other minutiae of each other’s lives. I ran wild over miles of woodland, farmland and heath without a care, and without my parents worrying; if I got in trouble, the neighbours would help. That too was community, just less jammed together than a city or small village. I have gone from a city with a population nearly that of Australia, to Melbourne. In neither place did I know most of my neighbours, and we were all happy to keep it that way. Among so many millions, privacy is a valuable commodity. Then I moved to a town of 1200 people, and I was home again. I knew every face, most names, the children, the farms, the names of every shopkeeper. I miss it, but found my nerves worn thin by the lack of privacy. Now I am alone in a distant city, except for my husband and his family. I have not found it easy to make friends here; I’m too foreign, too northern, too southern, too… something. My family doesn’t have roots here going back 150 years. But I have found community, here in cyberspace, and I treasure it.
I have been lucky in the various communities I have been a part of. French rural life is very supportive, – I don’t know about towns and cities, but I suspect many are real communities. This is because the smallest administrative unit, be it rural or urban, is called “commune”, and it seems to work. And I also relish being part of the wider “virtual” community, which keeps me in touch with the world now that I am less physically active.
I’m really lucky in that we ‘walked into’ a friendly, ready made community here in Warrandyte. One of our neighbours did come to the door with a plate of home made scones! But this place is a bit of throwback to a slower, more community minded era. Even the shops/shopkeepers establish bonds with us so…it feels great.
That said, though, my real community is online and grew out of the wonderful people I’ve met through my blog. I think online communities are drawn to each other through shared needs or ideals or interests and that is a very strong glue. And it’s a glue we /choose/. It isn’t imposed on us by default through the area in which we live or work. I can honestly say I truly like each and every one of the people I interact with online. To me that’s a bloody miracle! lol
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Your Fella and rhe G.O. have similar neighbourhood habits. The G.O. has generally been more familiar with our various neighbours than me, through timing & circumstances mainly. But I had and still have my own networks. Both of us in our own ways look out for neighbours and chat to acquaintances or people about to become acquaintances. Farmers markets are my forte… We’re fortunate here moving into a community with whom and to whom we’re already familiar. Last Saturday night we strolled across the road to a party… and it was like we’d never been away, there were just a couple of unfamiliar faces.
Online community has been a gift, from FB reacquainting with old friends and maintaining contact with family & friends regardless of geography, Instagram for a quick fix of visual inspiration & networking and blogging for life changing interaction. I’m happy to say, as a judicious user, I’ve had no bad experiences at all, and the online world has truly enriched my life ☺
Fences – just about every property is fenced – decades ago you would have a gate through to another place, but now they’ve gone – locked doors as well – too many tea leafs floating around, breaking and nicking something fast.
We have neighbourly.co.nz which you have to apply to – it’s not just for anyone, they check by sending to a real letter and a link/password etc. So that they know you exist. It can wax and wane of messages – every week someone has been burgled! Cars stolen, damaged…
I have never used it for help, I have some help a short distance by car/bus/next door away…who are not actually family as family too far away on other side of city. When I broke my arm and couldn’t mow my lawn, the guy across the ROW mowed and cared for it…
I have other community through my textiles groups…
My neighbour directly in front is a complete idiot and user…to point where he thinks my big garage and driveway are there for his convenience, it was partially my own fault but what I assumed was a place to store a large couch…turned into something quite different. (I’m planning on leaving here in Spring…)
I like your fella say “hello” to folk in the street, but there are getting less of the older faces…the elderly Asian man has gone, his garden is all overgrown; one weekend I saw a younger Asian chap at the front door and asked “where has he gone?” and he replied “no old man here”….but I got no further, there seemed to be a language barrier…