Thursday, 11 August 2011

“What has community ever done for me?”

What has community ever done for me?”

So Im sure (at the time of writing this) we have all been thoroughly aware of the complete anarchy being bred in London; anarchy that has slowly infected the 'imaginations' of other copycat groups in cities across the UK. Even in Reading our nearest town. Little did I know, the first day that I concieved of this article, that the riots would not be a one night only affair. But instead something that has been playing across the pages of our newspapers for the last 5 days. With varying degrees of severity.

Initially I responded by asking the same questions that im sure most people did.

  1. Why are the riots happening in the first place?
  2. Where are the police. Is the government supporting the police forces as much as they should be, and if not then are they in part responsible for the overwhelmed forces in London that first night.

But it soon became clear that these questions where narrow. They barely scrape the surface of what we began to see in subsequent days following the first riots. Pillaging and looting for no apparent reason. Destruction of hard working, honest peoples property and business. Complete wanton attitude towards the consequences. And more importantly for some. A complete disregard as to the reasons why. You can cite tax rises . . . but some of those kids (as young as 11) have probably never paid a tax in their lives. You can cite unemployment, but then if your protesting for more job opportunities why would you destroy the businesses that could potentially be your next paid work. It is a recklessness and complete lack of concience to a degree that humans have long known they are capable of but for a good few hundred years have slowly begun to ignore. It has literally made people feel ashamed to be human. You only had to log onto facebook for 5 minutes to know that. A race capable of understanding ourselves and the world around us to degrees no other species has ever achieved. And yet we still have the capacity to fall back into grooves that we cut into ourselves thousands of years ago as cavemen waring over the waterhole.
The Whole thing was so far fetched it almost began to seem fictional. It was an entirely reasonable belief to think that maybe Batman would come and sort all this out for us.
It was not to be.

On the first day of research for this article I went out into pangbourne and began to ask people questions. Pangbourne is an interesting place to begin in that we are a unique village of people. We have everything. Every age, salary and creed. An almost complete cross section of a modern society contained in a village only a mile or two from side to side. I talked to people about the riots in Tottenham and asked them questions about our village. Are there problems in the village and if so what are (in your opinion) the causes? Are the Police a positive force in Pangbourne? Are they the whimsical police of days gone by that everyone in the village knows. The policeman and the postman that would pop in for a cup of tea and a slice of flapjack.

The results where more or less to be expected. Having lived in Pangbourne for 12 years myself I could have answered all these questions anyway. But as always with these things there is no right or wrong answer. Only opinion.

For example. The general concensus is that we as a village do mnot have problems. Sure maybe a bit of litter by the river from time to time when its sunny. But not problems quite to the extent where your kids can be shot for wandering into the wrong postcode area.
Unfortunately the police where generally considered to be an invisible force. Though that is not through lack of trying. Im sure were all aware of the work they do at the local primary schools. With the girl guide groups and generally, in the local area. Most people seemed to understand that the only reason we dont see them that much is due to the vast area of land they have to patrol compared to the number of police available. A sad but real truth.
Maybe there is a sense in Pangbourne that old and young sometimes come to loggerheads when it comes to undertsanding eachothers needs within the village. But every single person I spoke to said that this is so small as to hardly ever cause a real problem.

The most telling response from the village however was resounding. When asked,
Do you think Pangbourne has a good community spirit?”
The answer was always an assured yes! YES!
We as a village have a great community spirit.
When asked however,
Does community spirit mean much to people anymore? What with the Internet and over 700+ channels on the television.”
The answer was no. Especially as each new generation grows it becomes less and less important. Or so the opinion goes.

All of this left me thinking about my generation and what it is that has dissasociated us with our communities. Not just in Pangbourne but in places like London as well. Am I just another youth, born in a wave of consumer whores. Never to know or even understand and respect my neighbours and local business when I have everything I need on a screen in my bedroom? I could buy all my shopping online, I could conceivably never visit the village of Pangbourne if I so wished. Is all I care about where my next wage packet can be spent.

And so it is that I stumbled upon a key. A way to unlock the potential of a generation and restore normality in a world where your next door neighbour is a legitimate target for arson.

The answer is of course COMMUNITY SPIRIT.

I have rcecently been lucky enough to spend a few months in China. In Nanjing. A place that stands as a great example of how community spirit not only commands respect between individuals but actually measurably reduces crime. Of course you can always say the Chinese government are a lot less tolerant of criminals. But then so is America. And they have one of the highest crime rates in the world.

In China you could go to the park in the evening and see old and young together. Listening to music of myriad genres. Flying kites. Playing Mahjong. Basketball. Bearing in mind as well that nanjing is a very very modern city.
One of my colluegues once said that crime in China is less of a problem because if you commit a crime, your not only bringing direspect upon yourself. But you are also bringing disrespect upon your whole family. Of course this is born of a way of life where up to 4 generations will commonly share flooorspace.
When asked where a friend who lived in Nanjing had got so good at drawing. She pointed strait to an old man who has sat and drawn with her, and about 3 other young teens, almost every evening. They respect him for sharing his time with them. And he respects them for their enthusiasm to learn.
It is a commendable place and I believe we in Pangbourne are just as lucky to live in such an environement. You can walk through the village or sit by the river and within 5 minutes your bound to bump into someone you know if not by name then in passing. Someone in Collins DIY mentioned that the village support for the local trade is phenomenal. Greens, Garlands, Collins, etc. etc. Are all supported literally and metaphorically by the families and friends in the village.
You can meet like minded people wherever you go in Pangbourne. Whether in the cafes. Parents at the school gates. Even clubs in the evenings that range from Tennis, Badminton, Cricket, Football, Canoing, Scrabble, Book reading. The list is endless. And every year there is a multitude of events that bring the village together in support of a common focus. The Pangbourne and Sulham Village fetes. The November memorials. The 10k fun run. The pangbourne primary school bonfire night.
I strongly believe that this is a way of life that should never be allowed to die out.

Sadly though in some places I believe it has. Places like Tottenham. A divided community of religion and race and football team. The riots are a by product of this. Its a whole lot easier to burn your neighbours house or ransack your local corner shop when you have never met the people of whoms lives you are destroying. Of course there are reasons that stack on top of this. No one is pretending that the government are doing a good job in bringing out the best in the younger generations. But a good community spirit is core. A good community has something for everyone. Young and old, rich and poor. It will include the disenchanted youth and the out of touch older generations. And respect and work towards the local area and the people who live in it. Building a better place to live and building a degree of trust that ties people together even in the most horrendous of circumstances.

So, residents of Pangbourne. Remember to never lose this way of life. Sure community spirit involves effort. But the rewards im sure youll agree are more than worth it. New friends and an extended family that at points could stretch to everyone in your village if the need is great. (Take the floods for example).
Disregard the nanny state that we live in and throw a street party. Build a bonfire so big this year at the Pangbourne Primary school fireworks night that when it is alight. Its flames will be seen all the way in London where rioters sat in cells will see us and know that they are missing out. Encourage this way of life everywhere you go. In your work place, in your home and in your neighbourhoods. And most importantly especially us students who branch out all over the coutnry every September. Take this way of life with you. Be the person that brings people together.

Ill leave you with one last example.

I was in London last week with my sister waiting on a train in hammersmith station. A german lad comes down the steps with his mates and has obviously had a couple of drinks as he is singing at the top of his voice. Seeing me he decides to get right in my face and sing. I didnt know who he was, or understand what on earth he was doing or even saying. Its at points like this that it is easy to let fear of the unknown dictate your choices. What if hes dangerous?
I said to him instead. “Im sorry . . . mein deutsche ist nicht so gut.”
Instantly the mood changed. He explained to me that he is from switzerland and they speak a slighty different dialect there. And then went on to ask me where is good in London for rock music. (I told him Camden) hope I was right.

My point is that the most basic of human connection is all that is needed. Human connection is what makes the world go round. Human connection is what brings people from all over together. And right about now, I think that is something we could all see the value in believing.


  1. - From Someone who wants to remain anonymous.
    i think that whilst you make an excellent point about community spirit....we have to remember that not everyone has the luxury living in lovely places such as pangbourne or ringwood, people especially young women need to protect themselves from who approaches them and i think not everyone is approachable based on human connections. I believe this is a massive shame but we do need to look to the forces etc to help protect everyone from horrible things.

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