Civic pride: ‘Community’ evolves and grows, but is all too-often taken for granted
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A sense of community is certainly not something that can suddenly be created or magicked out of thin air.
Community is something that evolves and grows, rather like a plant that is sown, fed and nurtured.
Community is also something that is vital for society’s wellbeing but which is all too-often taken for granted or totally overlooked.
In 1978 I was appointed as community co-ordinator at the city’s first community primary school – Honeyhill in Paston. As well as being a class teacher, I set up and organised a number of groups, from playgroups, mother and toddler groups, karate clubs, older people’s groups and groups for new arrivals.
The school’s caretaker, Don Houghton, was a leading light in the community and was instrumental in setting up the legendary Friday night social club, complete with bar, bands and fun!
Everyone was new to the area. In that new part of Peterborough everyone was an incomer, from London, Glasgow, Belfast and beyond – we even had a large number of Vietnamese ‘boat people’, displaced due to war. The sense of community was considered important – it was vital for people to feel part of something outside their immediate family.
These were good times and the community activities hopefully helped to make people feel at ease in their new city. At the time the Development Corporation, Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council all employed community workers to ensure cohesion and to promote a sense of belonging.
There was a time when the concept of community mattered. When new townships of Bretton, Orton and Paston were built, community workers were employed to ensure that people settled in and felt valued in their new homes. A couple of years ago, when I asked some of those behind the new Fletton Quays housing what community facilities were being incorporated into the new development, I think the phrase is: ‘they looked at me gone out’!
Community is clearly a word that is understood and promoted by Eva Woods, a member of the Youth Parliament for Peterborough. Recently Eva bemoaned the fact that the city’s community centres might be sold off by Peterborough City Council. She wrote, “it’s brought tears to my eyes to hear that we might lose some of the few community spaces we have. Money is money, but community is one of those things that our city can really be proud of right now. Don’t take it away”.
In July this year Peterborough’s MP, Paul Bristow, in one of his tweets, praised one of his ‘Peterborough Heroes’. He was referring to ‘Titch’ Setchfield who, along with her daughter, have been ‘working for the community in Eastfield for decades’. I often disagree with Mr Bristow but on this occasion he was absolutely right when he stated that: ‘everything they do at the Chestnuts Community Centre is greatly appreciated’. I knew ‘Titch’ and her family when I worked at Abbotsmede Primary School in the last century. They and their neighbours appreciated the need for a community to support itself, thus avoiding feelings of loneliness and isolation.
So it is with some alarm that I hear that Peterborough City Council may soon be disposing of assets, which may include some or all of the city’s community centres. I fully appreciate that national and local government policies have meant that only those responsibilities that are statutory are likely to be maintained – for some reason that’s what people voted for - but it is nevertheless short-sighted for some of these facilities to be sold off or put into private hands, thus fragmenting city-wide efforts.
It takes days to dismantle something, it takes years to build. Peterborough has a future. But that future belongs to people like Eva Woods. She, and those currently young people, need to be listened to and their opinions taken note of. Community … don’t take it away!