Why do small places matter? What 'community' might mean on the smallest level

Vicky Ledwidge, integration and partnerships officer for the Communities up Close project

Life happens in small places. Neighbouring houses, streets, postcodes. People nip to the local shop for a pint of milk, take in parcels for each other, use local doctor surgeries, attend places of worship and hang out in pubs. Even for commuters, the areas around their workplaces are small – habit takes us to the same sandwich shops, we walk the same route from the train station, and we pass the same people at the same time every day.

This is our day to day. Our worlds are just a connected network of small places. And that’s why the Communities up Close project decided to look at the impact of change - that includes change from migration as well as other types of change - on the everyday lives of people living ordinary lives in small places.

Small things in small places matter. Overflowing bins on street corners, roads that go un-gritted in winter, bus routes changing or disappearing altogether – all of these little incremental changes compound into a sense of being forgotten. We’ve heard that quite frequently in focus groups for the research on the Communities up Close project. It is, however, understandable that people holding the purse strings have the ‘big picture’ in mind, particularly in times of austerity. Cutting a bus service to save a bit of money, for example, or reducing the frequency of bin collections do make sense on one level, but the micro-impact can be quite devastating. Taking each of these decisions in isolation is fine, but when they’re added together, everyone in small communities can begin to feel overlooked, forgotten, or pushed to the side.

One group we spoke to were – in the majority – relatively positive. However, there was a tinge of sadness that the council had ‘taken away’ the Christmas lights in their small community. A small decision, possibly. It’s not a leap to assume that the lights might have been a bit shabby, and the electricity bill was high, so the council thought investing the money in the main town centre Christmas decorations would benefit more people in the long run. That’s logical.

But the knock-on effect mattered. The group felt a sense of melancholy. They shared stories of how the streets would come together for the ‘great switch-on’ - there used to be a Christmas fair with rides for the kids and a switching on ceremony with fireworks. Someone said the high street used to look lovely, and it’s not hard to imagine neighbours standing outside in the cold having a good old Yorkshire natter, newcomers feeling part of something, and children behaving impeccably just in case Santa was watching. But, there was hardly anything last Christmas. They said that the community just doesn’t come together anymore because there is no reason to.

Small places matter because it’s where life happens.

So, could something as simple as putting up Christmas lights be – quite literally – a shining example of creating community and celebrating the small places?


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Page last updated: 28/08/2020 07:16:22

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