One of my photos

Community spirit

July 14th, 2008 · Posted by Skuds in Life · 6 Comments · Life

There has been a fine example of community spirit where I live in the last week or two.   There is a woman here who had a heartbreaking loss when her baby died in a freak pushchair accident – the way I understand it the child fell out while shopping bags were being unloaded from the pushchair, although I might be wrong.  There was a spot of police involvement, as there would be when any child dies, and the mother had to prove that it was indeed an accident rather than negligence or abuse.  Not the sort of thing to make it all easier to take.

On top of all that there were worries about funeral costs and everything, and a couple of her friends started having a whip round to help out with the funeral.  The response to it has been amazing.  They have been collecting donations from the estates in Broadfield, and from the businesses in the Barton.  Even B&Q helped out by donating some buckets to collect money in.   One local business made a particularly generous offer that they didn’t want any publicity for so I won’t say what it is, but I really wish I could.

As at yesterday, the collection was £19 short of £1000.  All collected in about a week.  The family will not have to worry about the cost of a service or anything like that, and will even be able to afford to take some time away to start rebuilding their lives.

Broadfield often gets a bad press. Specifically the shopping parade gets a bad press along with the Imperial pub, but this quiet display of community spirit comes from the very parts of Broadfield that are usually in the negative spotlight.  The Imperial has been very supportive, allowing collections to take place there, the other businesses have been helping out, and the majority of donations have come from those living in the Courts and Guinness Trust estates rather than those in the ‘better’ parts of the neighbourhood.

That is not because the more well-off would not help.  I am sure they would if they were asked, and the only reason they were not asked is that those who were having the whip round don’t know them, or the family at the centre of it all.  Many of the donations would have been the odd tenner from families where the odd tenner makes a difference to the weekly budget.

In this case ‘the comunity’ is not based around the church or any particular institution: it is just the informal network of people who know their neighbours, know the other mothers from school as they walk their children there and back, see each other when they shop in Somerfields or have a coffee at the cafe opposite, or drink in the Imperial.

The real shame is that this informal network of local residents is purely reactive: when they know of someone who is in trouble they will help out regardless of any inconvenience to themselves, but do not get too involved in the visible, formal aspects of life in the area – extending to not even voting in local elections of course.   There is a lot of energy to be harnessed there if only someone could work out how to do it.


6 Comments so far ↓

  • ian irvine

    I think the reasons why people don’t vote are complex, but in my view one of the reasons is that people feel powerless, and that voting doesn’t make much difference. And with Broadfield Parkgate as an example, who can blame them?
    Take the Broadfield Forum. It’s better than nothing, and is useful to an extent, but it’s hardly a democratic forum. The dates of the meetings are fixed by the councillors, to suit themselves, the agenda is set by councillors and council officers, the Chair is appointed from, and by, the councillors, by means of some sort of unwritten process, there is no voting and no real dialogue- just council officers justifying the policies the Cabinet councillors have set.
    So a start could be to- democratise the Forum!

    I think that if anyone wants to engage a community, or communities within a community, they have to keep raising the issues that matter to people, and make it public.
    In my opinion, if things are done in secret, or ‘behind closed doors’, then the rot sets in.

    I really like living in Broadfield, and wouldn’t have always said that. While there are no doubt things that could be improved, getting improvements can take up time which is precious, and also, in the end mean an organisation has to put its hand in its pocket and spend MONEY.

    Something which they seem reluctant to do these days.

  • Skuds

    I totally agree. The reasons for voting are many and various, but seem to boil down to a feeling that it makes no difference. One reason why I am opposed to compulsory voting is that I think voters’ indifference is the fault of the political establishment rather than the voters themselves.

    Of course if the non-voters (who are in the majority – certainly in local elections) ever got interested and all got interested in the same thing they would be a mighty force – and isn’t that exactly what happened in 1945?

    But about the Broadfield Forum. Back when you were, quite rightly, still giving Southgate your priority there was some discussion about making it less council-led. Marie’s predecessor had plans to let the residents take control, chair the meetings, set the agenda and decide what they wanted the whole thing to become – exactly the sort of thing you are suggesting.

    The inevitable result was that there was a lot of shuffling in seats and avoiding of eye contact: everybody thought it was a good idea but nobody wanted to volunteer for it. It was a missed opportunity really.

    For my part I also avoided volunteering. At the time I thought it best if the thing was issue-based rather than party-based and as a semi-active member of a local political party I wouldn’t have been right. I sort of regret that now, as I could have tried to get it in a state where someone more neutral was willing to take over.

    Mind you… my ideas were a bit radical 😉 For example, instead of having long meetings where everyone complained about kids riding mini motorbikes and hanging round the shops I wanted to persuade those kids to come in and chat about it so that both groups could maybe see the other point of view.

  • skud's sister

    We have some similar issues with our local Friends of the Earth group (and other local environmental groups) in that it always looks as if we, as the white middle classes, are telling others how they should be acting. We do have members from right across Bradford, Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Rob, but expanding our membership base to be more genuinely inclusive is hard. I know that Friends of the Earth are doing either door-to-door or street fund-raising in Crawley very soon. I wonder what kind of areas they will go to as, although raising funds in areas with higher levels of social exclusion seems wrong it also seems wrong to say that they don’t have even the right to say no to contributing.

  • ian irvine

    Of course, we don’t really know who does and doesn’t vote in Broadfield. I’ve been shocked at some of the intelligent people I know who have said they have never voted.
    But I do think that Broadfield is a very socially divided area, between the haves and haves not. There are some people in the ward who are living in what can only be described as poverty, and I fear that somehow the overriding, unconscious effect of the haves is to make sure that the have nots are firmly at the bottom of the pile. I’m sure that someone else could put it better than me.
    But I think there are many people living here who are denied a voice. So your ‘radical’ idea of talking to the mini-moto kids would have been a really good bit of ‘community engagement’, Skuds.
    I was a member of the K2 working group in the run up to the new leisure centre opening. One of the reasons for building it near Broadfield was to tackle social exclusion, by encouraging people who don’t habitually take exercise to do so, and also to provide employment opportunities for an area where there is ‘worklessness’- not necessarily unemployment. There was even talk of providing a mini bus service to make it easier for people to get to K2.
    Now the Council is firmly in Tory hands, I wonder if those ideals are still in place?

  • Mr Mike

    People couldnt give a damn about community engagement, get in the real world. People have enough problems paying bills and getting through another crappy week. They are in so much debt and misery that they dont have the time and energy to go to K2 because they cant afford it.

    easier to get on your stolen mini moto and boot it around the woods. Why would a youth want to sit and explain what he does in his spare time to a group of people who really couldnt give a toss. The will go home to their wide screens and order a curry, while he/she goes home to see mum kicking crap out of their younger brother or sister because they are living a life of crap.

    People who have crap lives find solidarity with others who have nothing. The original post was about community and I agree with Skud and what he said.

    There is more to Community and Broadfield than a forum.

    Street parties like the Silver Jubille eg. make people proud to be from Broadfield. (Dreaming)

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