The UK’s tryst with Siberian weather has brought out both the worst and best in people’s behaviour – mostly the best, as locals carry sandwiches to people stuck in their cars for hours and shelter is found for freezing rough sleepers. So on Sunday, when the snow melts and we go back to endless Brexit news on how not to behave in neighbourly ways, what happens at a local level?
Hopefully some of the contact made while shovelling snow or shopping for neighbours will be retained and become the ground for deeper relationships. George Monbiot’s recent article on links between community building and improved health (based on ‘Compassion is the Best Medicine’ in Resurgence/Ecologist) shows both what we can achieve and a direction that makes sense in every way.
The evidence – drawn from work initiated by Frome’s Health Centre – puts figures to the obvious fact that a well connected community will be a healthier place in which to live. Why the work becomes newsworthy is that caring for each other saves millions of pounds and reduces stress on what remains of the NHS.
The Health Connections Mendip project is doing so well because it is built on many years of community building. The project creates the link between existing community groups, the health service, and individuals in need. Frome has had an enviable record of community activity for many years – the annual Carnival, for example, has raised thousands of pounds each year since 1929 – money that is quietly distributed to those who need it…. and around 400 other groups now perform in other ways.
All this is great, but I believe that bedrock of engagement also needed a Town Council that was prepared to change the power relationship between community and Council, for something like the Health Connections Mendip project to thrive as it is. Over the last 8 years the council has helped nurture community groups, hugely increasing support not just in money but in training and guidance. Crucially this is being done as a partnership – with the Council recognising its ambitions should be met with a symbiotic relationship rather than the traditional paternalistic one.[Incidentally, the thinking behind this – and much more – will all be shared at the Council’s Breaking the Mould conference in April.]