strong communities

Yesterday saw the kids, Aunty Julia and myself (unfortunately Dan was poorly) at their first ever protest. The English Defence League were marching in Exeter and in response a group called Exeter Together was formed and organised a counter demonstration to celebrate diversity and respect in Exeter and to send a clear message to the EDL that they are not welcome here.

I’m happy to admit that I was a bit nervous on the morning of the march, although I’ve been to demonstrations before I’ve never been to an anti EDL one and given their violent tendencies I was a bit worried about having the kids in tow. However the organisers had assured us it was more a celebration of all that is good in Exeter, that it was family friendly and that the two groups wouldn’t even meet. They were right, there was no need to worry. And what an amazing day.

Hundreds of people (estimates range from 700 to over 1000) turned up to walk in a peaceful and joyful march before gathering in the city centre for a time of music, poetry and speakers.
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What I absolutely loved seeing was the diverse range of groups and people who were represented and who turned up, from punks with their foot high brightly coloured mohawks, old hippies swathed in wool and multicoloured fabrics, the trade unions, teachers union, folk from the Centre for Islamic Studies, pastors from local churches to just general members of the public who felt strongly enough about the EDL coming to Exeter that they gave up their free time on a saturday morning to join in.

Strong communities. This is what it’s about. My last post was concerned with how to make a difference, how to help. I believe the starting point is in having and participating in strong communities. 50, 100 years ago you could take having a supportive community for granted, whole families lived in the same town or village, everyone knew each other and was willing to help those who needed it. Now families are fragmented around the country, sometimes the world. You often move to follow the work. To find a good school. To get a cheaper house. We can’t guarantee knowing people in our local communities. I believe there is an increase in our poor health (mental and physical) because we don’t have those networks of support that we used to have.

But since moving to Devon I’ve felt part of a community. Perhaps it is because I’ve lived in a big city for the last 10+ years but living in a small town has been incredible. We can’t walk down to the shops without bumping into at least one person we know. When our car battery was flat and we needed to move it the local shop directed me to a nearby house where a lovely gentleman came and gave me a jump start. I later found out he was the mayor. That day sticks with me. I interrupted him and his wife whilst they were having breakfast with a toddler on my hip and a child bouncing around to say someone said he might help. He dropped everything and came round immediately.  Some friends from the pub where I work let me and the kids pick copious amounts of apples from their property because they knew I wanted to make preserves but our apple tree had failed. We were asked to put together a musical act for Carnival week, even though we’d been here less than 6 months.  And I know if you asked me in a few months I could give you even more examples of such a kind and friendly community.

Yesterday made me realise that it doesn’t matter if you know everybody in it, or even sometimes like them all(!) but being part of a strong community is essential. Through it you can find out where help is needed, where there are opportunities for you to get involved in something that you are passionate about, that is worthwhile. There are people who care, people who are willing to do things, to try and effect change. You just need to find them, to join with them, to be part of it.

I was talking to my friend just after my last post and he was talking about volunteering at the local food bank and just like that, I knew that was something I wanted to do with the kids. I know I will have to wait until they are old enough to be properly useful (or at least not counter productive!) but I want to get involved in that front line service. He has inspired me to pull my finger out and start asking the questions.

Similarly, our home education group was dwindling without somewhere to meet and now I feel really passionate about being part of that. We are looking for a venue where we can meet weekly now, where we can welcome in other parents who are considering home education or already doing it, to be able to do activities with the kids, to create another community.

Never have I experienced community like this, there are layers of different groups and they all seem to overlap; folk we know from  Topsham, the home education network, people from our Church, from being a parent, even at work as the pub where I work has become like family (albeit eccentric!) to me. Now don’t get me wrong, we had some very very special friends in Brighton and I still miss them daily. But our ‘community’ started and ended with them. Maybe we didn’t try hard enough but it was hard to be part of a community in a big city (although I guess we were part of the liveaboard community in the marina). It was hard to connect in the same way, there was an attitude of ‘but what difference will we make?’ or ‘but someone’s already doing that’. But if we ever do live in a city again I know I will make an effort to get more involved. Now I know how important it is to be part of what surrounds you.

So the answer, not 42, but, strong communities.

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