It starts with hello

Musings from Vicky Ledwidge, our integration and partnerships officer who led on local authority liaison in the Communities up Close project

I’ve been spending some time reading through notes from the focus groups for the Communities up Close research to pull out themes for some peer learning sessions. Amongst the pages and themes which emerged, one stood out.

It starts with hello.

Counter to the warm northern stereotype, there seems to be some reticence to break the silence which hovers between strangers in current post-Brexit times. Much has happened in recent years to divide the nation, and we no longer seem to walk down the street and make eye contact with people as we go. In one focus group there was a conversation about how ‘they [the migrants] keep themselves to themselves’, with one participant saying that she doesn’t ‘neighbour’ anymore and that the days of people popping in and out of each other’s houses are long gone. Is it that there’s fear of rejection or a snappy retort, is it an assumption that someone who has a different skin colour might not speak English, or is it that – in the days when we’re so reliant on Whatsapp or Facebook to socialise – we’ve simply forgotten how to say hi?

There’s also another question that the focus group discussions prompted, about whose responsibility it is to break that silence and make the move to bravely speak first to a stranger in the local area. Theirs, if they’re new residents? Ours, if we see the street as ‘our patch’?

I find it a little sad, if I’m honest. The sense of belonging to somewhere, someone or something is so important to feel grounded, to feel secure – which in turn leads to increased confidence, self-esteem and self-worth. I also feel challenged – when was the last time I said hello to someone I didn’t know? In commuting to work, I see the same people every day, yet I don’t think I’ve ever made eye contact with some of them.

So, I had hopes for what would come out of the research. According to our recent opinion poll about migration and integration, Yorkshire people say they think their community is welcoming, and half do feel a responsibility for making a newcomer welcome. Perhaps this demonstrates good intent compared with the reality of what the focus group participants experience in practice? However, our survey does also highlight that there are so many people who don’t interact at all with migrants in their communities. I was looking forward to sparking discussion amongst stakeholders about how these seen or unseen barriers can be broken down, so that people can shake off whatever is holding them back, and just say hi.


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Page last updated: 28/08/2020 07:21:46

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