Opinion

What does community mean to you?

Images: Kerri Walter (Instagram: @kerriwalterphotography)

As the end of the year approaches, we’re encouraged to celebrate the notion of ‘Christmas spirit’. This encompasses many things, one of which is the conscious effort to surround ourselves with people during the festive season, more than at any other time of the year.

For those with fewer, or difficult, family connections, friends and community often take the lead.

“To me, a community consists of people from different paths and backgrounds with various opinions and points of view, banded together by the group that they find themselves in. This can be a place they live that isn't 'home',” says Heather, 31, one of the founders of The Only Way Is Singapore, a community for expat women living in the South Asian country.

What primarily began as a Facebook group has now become a great way to meet like-minded people. Women can ask for recommendations on anything from travel, to where can they get their hair done, as well as looking for a new housemate, selling their items or just asking for someone to go for a drink with.

“It is a lovely community that I am proud of that I know has helped a lot of women whilst living there,” she said.

Of course, we often seek out others for support when we’re out of our comfort zone, but what about a little closer to home? Community means different things to different people, so we asked six people what community means to them:

Paul, 44

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“To me, community is about looking out for one another. By creating a community, we are able to protect those who are vulnerable, help those who need assistance and work together to create a better immediate environment for those we share it with. It is building a family that is not based on unconditional love, but instead on unconditional proximity that means we should work together to make our space interesting, enjoyable and simply good. Growing up, my community was based on my school. It was a little school with a maternal headmistress who taught us to respect and help one another. Despite her old fashioned ways and strict manner she taught us that we were all equal and to appreciate everyone's differences. At the moment, I have my neighbourhood which is full of friends and I am part of a local Jewish community. However, I do think that recently people have started to shy away from their local communities and instead live in their global digital communities. People talk less in the park or at the shops, instead they believe a digital connection is as good as a real life one. I'm not so sure.”

Vanessa, 24

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“The word community for me is not so much of a tangible place but more so of a group of people who do not have to share similar interests, but wish to create a better, healthier and more socially substantial space to do good for the world and the people around them. Growing up abroad, I was not drawn to a particular community and being mixed raced, it was difficult for me to open up to the very different racial communities that my parents were a part of. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, per say, but after moving back to London I soon realised that there are many more communities existing than I was led to believe.”

Valerie, 77

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“It’s about getting on with each other; being friendly, not falling out, or arguing. The community I grew up in was very nice actually. Used to all play together, all the little children. We lived out in the country and you could go walk about and no one had to worry. It was very safe years ago. Not everyone knew each other as it was a bit of a small community, but when I got older, about 10 or 11, I used to go and do two ladies shopping. One used to like me going down the shops because she couldn’t make it - I used to get a penny a time. Another lady grew to like me, she wanted to adopt me, but my mum wouldn’t let that happen! Recently, my neighbours had a family party - the mum and dad’s anniversary - and they put me in the wheelchair and took me to their party. It’s not as good as it used to be when I was younger, things change over the years, but if I was in trouble of course my neighbours now would be here.”

Gerrard, 63

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“I moved here from Dublin when I was five or six and when I first came to this country there was every race and we all congregated not far from here. My neighbour taught my mum how to make curry and my mum taught her how to make traditional British food. We also had a Jamaican family living next door and you’d feel like you were in the Caribbean with the music playing. I still know them now - two of them still come in here. Community means people who live in the area, and I think, in England, most parts of the community love to meet in the pub. It’s been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years. This here is a community pub and most of these people are from around this area and they come in here as it's peaceful, they get a good drink and they get well looked after. That’s my job as a licensee: to look after people. I’ve owned the pub for 35 years and I’d say 98% will know of each other. There’s a good sense of community in this pub. The customers look out for everybody. There was a fella walking past who fell over and five or six people picked him up, brought him in, put a blanket over him, found out where he lived, headed to his wife and got him to hospital. They see someone coming up in a wheelchair and two, or three, fellas will run out and help them, if people are ill, they’ll drop each other home. I think people always say people these days aren’t like we were, but I think people are just as good now. Young people are great, they’ve got manners. This is a family pub; that’s what it should be.”

Hilary, 23

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“'Community' has the same definition as 'family': a group of people who come together. It’s an environment you can thrive in, and I feel like while it's more about the people, than the area in some respects, every aspect also makes a community, too. I grew up in a few different communities. The first was in southeast London, which was very family-orientated and everyone looked after each other. I moved around a lot and, when I moved to East, it was very different. Being in that house didn’t feel like I was part of a community; no one spoke to each other except for at school. I also lived in a hostel in Orpington and everyone used to have each other’s back. If there was anyone without anything - like milk, or sugar - we’d help each other out. There was also once where I was locked out after taking the bins out - I’d left my phone inside, I had my slippers on, and I forgot to put on the latch - and neighbours knocked our front door down.”

Chris, 28

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“Community is safety. Feeling relaxed. It’s yours. My Dad used to say that if he went to a pub that was outside London, that wasn’t his, he would drink with his back to the wall. He was outside of his local place. You want to feel like you’re part of something. Being here, in a family pub, feels like going back in time. This is rare. I don’t see this. I feel like being part of a community feels old fashion; like a 1950s thing. 10 years ago, you used to know everyone. Now, no one knows anyone. Community was a street thing, especially as a kid. Being a kid now isn’t like when we were kids. I think you get more of a sense of a community as a kid and then when you’re old. You lose that sense of community in the mid-stages between being a kid and when you’re old because you’re just trying to work and earn money.”

What does community mean to you? Have a little think this Christmas...