Community in times of adversity

Coming together

The Big Lunch 2009 437 by The Ginger Gourmand.

There’s been a lot in the news recently about shares and markets, but what about the price of a different type of share? The Eden Project’s recent Big Lunch initiative puts a high value on community sharing. A slightly hamfisted connection there, or one with some credence? Billed as an event ‘to put a smile on Britain's face’, the support for the Big Lunch may have been because of its timing. Several of those commenting (see for example Steve Bridger’s piece)  have drawn the parallels between the Big Lunch and the street VE celebrations.  So does adversity breed community cohesion?

During other times of adversity such as the miners’ strike of the 80s, the affected communities pulled together. Is there reason to think that this won’t happen again? And as the recession affects the whole of society, will we see greater cohesion? (Looking at it with a cynical marketing eye, the people behind the Big Lunch could well have chosen the best possible time to launch such an initiative. )

If you’re like me, I can’t think of the last time I did something with my neighbours, to get to know them better. Social isolation is much talked about in relation to modern society with aspects such as increasing technology use, greater individual living (see our driver), more people working further from where they live (think commuter villages; international working) and other elements being blamed for increasing individualisation and the isolation from your community that comes with it.

In 2006 the government set up the Commission on Integration and Cohesion

to explore how different communities and places in England are getting along, and what more might be done to bring people together – respecting differences, but developing a shared sense of belonging and purpose.

So the government has recognised the value of ‘community’, but do we need more than facilitation from the powers that be for there to be true community cohesion? As far back as December, before the credit crunch really bit, there was anecdotal evidence of a move towards greater community spirit in what could be deemed a time of adversity.  Communal activities such as fetes, country fairs, skating in the winter and festivals in the summer are becoming increasingly popular. Arguably this kicked in before the recession (skating rinks have been around in London for a fair while now) but it would be interesting to see if numbers to these events are going up. Bringing people together with events such as the Big Lunch can help forge collective futures for a society. Which brings me to another point: a time of opportunity for the VCS.

The sector and the community

Community cohesion is living among your neighbours, not just next to them. It also forms the basis of many voluntary sector organisation initiatives – think BTCV’s green gyms, Trees For Cities weekend volunteers, the list is endless… People may well, unfortunately, find themselves with more time on their hands at the moment. This is then the perfect opportunity for people to get more involved with community.  The time is now for VCOs to tap into this pool of people and to show the wider society the benefits and skills that can be developed by getting involved in voluntary activity. 

Sustainable in more ways than one

The concept of a neighbourhood where people share and work together as a coherent entity taps into concepts of environmental sustainability. The Dervaes family of California are held up as exemplars of sustainable living. They’ve turned their typical suburban plot into a powerhouse of self-sustaining productivity, producing 6,000lb of fruit and vegetables a year. But as they say themselves, it’s less about the gardening and more about

people and community. It’s about going back to sharing and recycling and reducing and doing without and doing it together.

And they put their words into action. In exchange for the fresh produce they supply to restaurants, they receive the restaurant’s used vegetable oil which the family turn into bio-diesel to deliver the produce to the restaurants.

A final thought:

Technology – in the form of the internet and online interaction has often been criticised for fostering alienation between people and their community. But there is also a school of thought that it can strengthen offline interaction. Crowdhug works on just such a premise and according to its founder it’s ‘having a hugely positive effect on community cohesion'.


You may be interested in having a look at some of our other related drivers:


Community responsibility

as well as some of the things I came across while browsing on this subject:

Social consequences of internet use by JE Katz

Social Isolation in Modern Society by Roelof Hortulanus, Anja Machielse, Ludwien Meeuwesen

Communities and Local Government



Last updated at 14:54 Thu 23/Jul/09.
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How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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