Second part of two posts inspired by some resilience-related conversations with my family over Christmas. This part contains some reflections from my uncle on community resilience in the village he and his family live in.
The village hall and the play group.
The village recreation hall was the centre of the village. It was where people met, where friendships were made and where toddlers began to learn to interact with each other. Some people were several generations local, so had a good friend base and a strong local identity. They felt very at home in their environment and were therefore extremely confident in everything they did in the village. They were the ones who were most likely to be at the forefront of any changes that involved groups of people; they were the ones who would be most vociferous in either supporting or opposing just about anything that went on.
Being a new parent in a small village can be scary to say the least. You immediately feel cut off and stuck at home and you face a choice. Stay at home and be lonely, or go out to a playgroup in the village hall and meet with other parents.
If you are well known and know everyone this may appear to be a simple task, but even locals have different levels of confidence when suddenly plunged into parenthood and enforced exposure to the unknown. It can be very frightening indeed to suddenly have to go out and meet people who may be a known face, but an unknown personality. Many of us would not relish the prospect of being forcibly exposed to strange people and their strange habits at any time; doing this at a time when your confidence is already at a low as you learn to be a parent is even more daunting. Imagine then how it must feel to someone who has just moved into the area from somewhere else and doesn’t know anyone, or even much about the area they have moved to.
Whether local or new, the problem and answer are the same and you either bite the bullet or sink into the abyss; your choice.
Therefore you make the decision to face the fear and go to the hall with said toddler and see what happens. You step through the door and enter, the first person you meet is a local; worse still a third or fourth or more generation local whose family own several chunks of the village. Their grandparents are not merely a part of the village, they are the village.
They are however extremely welcoming. You begin to make contact with people and over the weeks begin to settle in and find your feet. Lots of locals are there, but some new blood as well. Some have been around as long as you, some have lived in the village for up to ten years; all are new parents. You get to know which ones are new or old blood quite quickly, largely because the locals speak in a strange tongue. They use names and places and stories that are common to them and the village, but which mean nothing to you. As the weeks and months and then a year or two pass you begin to feel more at ease and eventually understand some of the local language. You know who Mr. Kirk is and who is his daughter, you know the local pub is one of the oldest buildings in the village. You begin to fit in.
Suddenly, that which was most feared becomes most important and vital, it becomes a part of who you are. As the years pass and confidence grows, as do the children, so involvement increases and you have a focal point about which everything else now revolves. As the children grow and move from Playgroup to school, so to you move with them and become part of an even bigger group. The primary school becomes the new centre of your world. Involvement may even increase here. You may become a parent helper, a reader or some such. Fund raisers, concerts and assemblies all give more opportunities to get together. All goes well.
Then suddenly secondary school beckons. Travel to another town or village is involved. The school is bigger and less inviting of parental involvement.
You suddenly find yourself back at square one. Some friendships remain solid, others dissolve rapidly, all become less frequent. People who were an everyday part of your life twice a day are suddenly never seen again, others perhaps two or three times a year; the odd one or two perhaps a couple of times a week but only for minutes rather than hours. The school and the hall begin to drift away from you, as do most of the people and what was once an important part of your life becomes a distant memory. Places which were once your second home now become out of bounds. The seat with your name on it has a new owner and all the locks have been changed, the gate is shut. People move on.
Some go back to work, some go on to new interests and hobbies, some just live more quietly. A small number become even closer and more sociable with each other than before, a few just fade away. Life goes on.
The rise and fall of the Super Group.
The village is a living organism and as such it relies on food to exist. The food it relies on is the local population, or more importantly the involvement of the local people.
How many times has it been said that there is never anything to do, nothing ever happens; yet when something does happen or there is something to do no one turns up anyway.
It is the inertia of the people themselves that creates a dead village.
Most of the time there is plenty going on, they are just too lazy or too shy to look or to give it a try. If there is indeed nothing going on, it is because they are not making it possible. Most people rely on others to make things happen; they are too shy or too lazy to make it happen for themselves. Some live pseudo vicariously, they are happy to let other people organise or even do things and feel that they have done whatever it is themselves, at a distance, having never actually done anything at all. Most villages survive at a subsistence level, activity low. Surviving but never thriving. Someone organises the occasional dance, hardly anyone comes, everyone moans there is never a dance on.
Some changes occur now and then; population changes, housing changes, people move in and out but things remain largely the same.
Organic organisms however are prone to the occasional inexplicable DNA explosion and villages are no exception. Suddenly, for no obvious reason, the super group emerges. A disparate group comes together with a common interest and goal. Its members may or may not be good friends or even known to each other. They may be different ages and professions. Something has brought them together, often children. They do not set out to make changes, they do not meet with a known common goal, they probably don’t even know they are part of a group, let alone a super group. They may not have common interests as such, or any desire to become involved in anything.
What they do have however, is ability. Ability to act, to desire, to enable.
They have the same complaints as the others, nothing ever happens etc. The difference is this, when one of them moans there is never a dance on, one of them says lets have one. This is taken up by someone else who says they will come to it. Another says they will ring a DJ they know, another says they will see how much the hall costs to hire; and on it goes. The biggest difference however is that they all actually do what they have said they will, they don’t go home and not bother. There is a desire in them all not only for something to happen, but to ensure it actually does. The good thing about the super group is that it grows in confidence and ability over time and moves into other areas of need. Dances, playgroups, school fund raising etc.
The bad thing is that it becomes the group that makes all these things happen.
So why is that a bad thing?
Well, in itself it isn’t. Things happen, things change, everyone benefits; even those not involved at any level benefit vicariously. Suddenly everything is vibrant. The bad thing is that as the group moves along, usually following the children as they move through school etc, so it eventually dissolves. All well and good, change is often good or even necessary to infuse new life into things, but unfortunately this is often not the case. The super group has been the life of the village.
It’s death is also the death of the village unless it has another to replace it, but it was a genetic one off. There may be another, but then again there may not. It’s very existence was pure chance, a fluke. It dies.
Suddenly it is up to others to pick up the baton. Some may grasp it firmly, most drop it. Life goes back to how it used to be. The complainers complain, most do nothing, nothing happens. A few brave souls soldier on, but they are doomed to ultimate failure by the nay sayers and complainers. Another DNA flaw is the only hope.
This is not a theory, it did happen.
So who were the super group?
Just a bunch of ordinary people who happened to come together by chance. We all wanted something to happen, we all realised it wouldn’t unless we made it. We all happened to want it enough to make it happen. It happened.
It was both interesting and very annoying and dis- heartening to be a part of the super group. Yes we made things happen and got things done. We changed the village forever in our small way, but we eventually realised we were on borrowed time. We knew there were few who wanted to follow us and continue our efforts. We knew there wasn’t another group behind us.
Wherever we turned up, we would see all the same faces. It was always us organising and running things, it was always us that attended them; and as we began to move away we realised more and more batons were falling to the ground. Eventually even we became disillusioned with this and slowly threw in the towel. No one can run the whole world forever.
The village didn’t die of course, but it did get a lot quieter.
Most of us still have some limited involvement in local things in our own disparate way, but the group has gone. We await the birth of the next one.