Everybody needs to feel valued and respected for what they bring to the world. When a person retires or becomes redundant they may experience a feeling of being surplus to requirements. We all need to be needed and when we think that we have no useful purpose it can lead to depression. The truth is, we all need each other and every single person has something of value to contribute to their community.
My novels The Borrowed Boy and Just Bea are about community life and how friendship and connection help the protagonists to overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation. Stories about the power of friendship and community have become popular in recent years with novels such as Saving Missy, Mr. Doubler Begins Again, and The Authenticity Project.
I think this is because we idealise a community life of bygone days. Out of town superstores, on-line shopping and services, and an economy where everything is paid for – even the giving of care, means that personal, local transactions have diminished. Neighbourhoods are transient as people move in and out of the area. In towns where people leave home to go to work each day, there may be very little interaction between neighbours.
When you are experiencing a busy home and working life this may not concern you. But what happens when that changes? Divorce, retirement, bereavement, or a shift to working from home as a result of the pandemic may change your perspective. Suddenly, the connections you took for granted are no longer there and you may feel isolated.
The pandemic has shaken up our world in so many ways. Life will never be the same again as we adapt to new ways of living. Not all of the changes will be negative. Already, people are moving out of big cities to the countryside and seaside villages, as they anticipate working from home several days a week. We have started to buy local produce and favour smaller stores, alongside shopping on-line. Maybe we will start to look to our local community and neighbourhood to find what we need to survive.
Readers of my blogs on personal development will know that I believe on a personal level we have everything that we need to achieve our goals. Well, I also believe that every neighbourhood and community have the resources they need to thrive. Each person in your neighbourhood has skills, experience, and knowledge that is of value to another person. Practical skills such as decorating, cake-making, and gardening. Knowledge such as local history, or how to start a business. Caregivers. Home-makers. People who are good at networking. Singers, crafters, DIYers. The list is endless. You may have watched TV programmes where communities are brought together to achieve a challenge such as improving a house or creating a community garden. There is a wonderful energy as neighbours work together, discovering one another’s skills, and forging new friendships.
In my novel The Borrowed Boy, Angie Winkle lives a very isolated life until she visits Jaywick Sands and finds a place where she belongs. Her skills as a mechanic, a dressmaker, and a caregiver are valued by her neighbours. For the first time in her life Angie feels needed, and this transforms her.
Commercialisation, the internet, and globalisation have fragmented community life. Instead of trading skills with one another, we have looked outside of our community to purchase everything we want or need. Buying local is about more than supporting local businesses and protecting the environment, it provides an opportunity to discover the wealth of skills, experience, and knowledge within our community. In doing so, we give purpose and meaning to the lives of our neighbours. We make connections and friendships. People need people. We are a tribal species wired for connection. Meaningful engagement that values what each person has to give.
I believe that everywhere has community when you look for it. All it takes is one step, maybe joining a club or association, introducing yourself to a neighbour, or volunteering to help out with a community project. If you don’t like mixing in groups then finding ways to serve others, for example, offering to shop for an elderly neighbour and then taking the time to get to know them because they too will have something to offer you or somebody else that you know. Build your community one person at a time. Connect others and watch as your community weaves itself together. Stronger, more resilient, and a happier place to live and work.