Bridging the gap that needs to be minded
On underground platforms and trains,
Is not the same gap we attempted to bridge
Between practice and pragmatic brains.

Mihaela and Sue gave us all food for thought
Between theory and plain common sense.
The tsunami destroyed both the good and the bad
So the chance to improve was immense.

The co-operation of people diverse
In building a far better place
Was shown to be right in so many ways,
The old disappeared without trace.

But ending the day on a note of goodwill
For all, and it isn’t just chance,
The thing I’ll remember for ever, I fear,
Is Theo’s outrageous stamp dance.

Poem by Gordon Pearson

The workshops we did on the subject of Communities and the way in which gaps in our communities could be bridged were extremely thought provoking and raised several “internal issues” in my head that I needed to sort into some sort of order.  That is why I am writing this down so that I can address my thoughts and develop them by getting them into some sort of order, revisiting them as they develop and looking to see how they affect each other.


I have no training or experience of the social sciences or of philosophy, so I have made no attempt whatsoever to set out my thoughts within these frameworks.  My education, training and experience has been almost entirely within business and management, so I thought it may be useful to try and apply some of those methods and experiences to think about communities. So back to basics!

Definition of “Community”

Dictionary definitions.



noun, plural com·mu·ni·ties.


a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.


a locality inhabited by such a group.


a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the ): the business community; the community of scholars.


a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage: 

the community of Western Europe.


Ecclesiastical . a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.

Source: Dictionary.com

Unfortunately, the word has become very loose in usage and is often used indiscriminately and without thought as to what it means.

However I believe a community is more than living in the same place or having the same set of laws.  I believe real communities are built on sets of values that go beyond this.  I believe that that the example shown at 3 above is far important than the others.

Do we need Communities?

If I was reviewing a business with a view to investing time, money and effort in it, I would be asking, amongst others, the following questions :-

Does this business have a product that anybody wants?  For example, would you think that a business making chocolate fireguards have much of a future?

Do the people in the business have a real understanding of what the business is about?

Is there a will and enthusiasm to make it work?

What are the ways in which success or failure is measured within the business?

How do you measure the value of the business?

So I want to change these questions a little and apply them to Communities.

Is Community something people want?

If we take the dictionary definition that I favour 

a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the ): the business community; the community of scholars.

and then look around us, it seems that the world likes communities and seems to value them highly. Communities exist all over the human and natural world as a successful way in which people have found to live with each other. These communities may have significant differences in the way they are organized and may develop different codes of living and behaving but they are certainly communities.

And the arguments against communities?  I have never really heard one, unless you count Margaret Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as Society!”.  The world seems take communities as a given and as a basic part of human life.  It is difficult to imagine life without communities.

Having said all that,  there is some feeling in the UK that Community is somehow breaking down and that there is a much more selfish and self centred feel to the society in which we live. Without the benefit of solid evidence, people seem to have a strong feeling that “communities are not what they were”  and  “everyday life is much more threatening and dangerous”.   This may be what is causing the feeling that we need more community, not less.

Do people really understand what Community is about?

I am not really sure that they do.  For a lot of people, the longing for better communities, is really a remembrance of “better times”,  “when people looked after each other”.  These “better times” remembrances may be true, and if they are, they are they are indicators that our communities have changed significantly.

I am convinced that, because communities are made up of individuals,  they will constantly be in a state of change.  However, I can see some historical changes that may give rise to these feelings.

Prior to 1900, people lived in much smaller communities where there were clearly identifiable common bonds. These may have been based on physically close communities (more villages etc), people gathered in packed accommodation around industrial areas, religion was still a major influence, political representation of the common people was much less, aristocracy provided some of the community leadership, monarchy and “people knowing their place had an effect of communities bonding together.  There was very little mobility of the population so communities remained static within themselves. There was also little or no state provision for health or to deal with epidemics or serious personal injury.  These produced pressures to force people within communities to bind together to look after themselves.

The 20th century changed the UK dramatically, and with it the way in which communities saw themselves.  The First World War changed the view which the population viewed it’s rulers, the social and political views of communities, families were broken apart by war deaths, and communities supported each other because of this.  The war was followed by The Spanish Flu epidemic which brought more death right at the heart of communities. Mass unemployment, the great depression, all forced members of communities to depend on each other and to do things for themselves, because there was no other way. No state health service, little or no state support for the unemployed, only little political representation until the 1920’s.  Then came World War 2 and another  5 years of suffering. It is probably the 1950’s and 60’s that people look back on as the heyday of community. The Welfare State came into being, there was no significant unemployment, but people were in the habit of caring for each other and the Welfare state was jam on the cake.

I believe that this gave rise to a number of things that caused communities to begin to break up from the level people remember.

Housing.  Lots of houses were destroyed during the war. Also there was lots of Victorian houses, particularly in the industrial cities, that were in effect slums, overcrowded and unsanitary.  There were programmes of clearance and rebuilding of new housing. The problem was that people were rehoused sometimes miles away from the community they lived in. My own family was rehoused in 1953 to a new council house some 8 miles from where they originally lived, with no access to buses, schools or relations living close by. In fact the whole population of the huge estate was one big broken community.

Work.  Where people were rehoused, there was frequently no work nearby.  To keep their original jobs, people needed to travel further to go to work. Whereas they may have worked only a few hundred yards from home, with colleagues that lived in the same street, they no longer lived in that community, and there was often no sense of community in their new homes.

Family. In the old industrial communities before rehousing, extended families lived close to each other and supported each other when required. The rehousing broke this apart and the support deteriorated because of distance.

Population Mobility.  During this period there was also a growth in population movement around the country for work reasons. A classic example of this is miners coming to Staffordshire from other coal fields in the UK.  There was also the beginnings of Commonwealth immigration into the UK.

All of these things caused the fondly remembered communities of our childhoods to change dramatically.

Is there a will and enthusiasm to make communities work?

I truly believe that there is such a will and enthusiasm.  I see this in my own volunteering and I can see it all around me in the general population. I have never met anybody that thought community is a bad idea. However I do believe that we have gone through a major change in the way in which we view community and to find more ways of getting people to engage in the community. However, we need to accept that this cannot be done by outside agencies, certainly not on a permanent basis. If communities are to be real communities, it has to come from people, not politicians.

What are the ways in which the community is successful or failing?

I am really groping around to understand how this applies to community. However, I am very sure that in all communities there are parts of that community that need help. If we can’t identify these on a sensible basis then we cannot decide on courses of action that will help to improve the community and bring people together.

I am absolutely convinced that simply pouring government money into a community without people able to measure success or failure, or even to identify need is pointless.  So how do we measure?

Just for my thought process I am going to try and map what a community against Maslow’s hierarchy of need and see where that leads. I understand that is now becoming old hat, but it may have some application…..

Physiological Needs.  Any community, as does any individual, has certain basic needs. A successful community needs clean air, decent food, clean water, proper sanitation, warmth, shelter.  We need measures for a community that determines :-

To what level is the air polluted?  Compare to an appropriate level. (Air pollution monitoring points across the community? Cross check reports from chest clinics? Need information)

Can everybody in the community afford decent and wholesome food?  If not, why not? Food banks have no place in a civilized and decent society!  (Work with supermarkets to establish pattern of unhealthy food. Use these in education programmes. Run cooking classes in the community. Establish why there is not enough money for food.)

Does everybody have ready access to a clean water supply and proper sanitation? If not, why not?  (additional funding for public health.  Work with water companies to establish where supply is inadequate)

Does everyone have access to warmth and shelter?  There must be measures of the housing situation and action taken when it falls below standard?  (Numbers of homeless. Analyse reasons for homeless. Support Homeless Charities)

All the above need active and adequate support from Central Government and Councils.  This cannot be done at community level. Lack of funds cannot be used as an excuse for doing nothing.  Would we accept an excuse from a factory owner that he could not afford to safeguard machinery and kill his workers? No, so why should we accept it from the very governments that make the regulations?  I accept that the money the government spends is ours, not theirs, so maybe communities have to accept higher taxes to achieve this!

Safety. Every community needs to feel safe, both as a community and as individuals. Recent “cutbacks” to police funding,  introduction of Police Community Support officers have done little to make people feel safer in their communities. Security of employment has disappeared and that makes people feel insecure. Inability to get on the housing ladder , lack of a home. All these things make the community feel unsafe.  We need reporting measures for the community that identify :-

Lack of personal safety.  What is the policing ratio to the population?  What are the crime reports? What are the detection rates?  What are the crimes that make people feel unsafe?

Employment.  We need early indicators of failing employment levels within the community, The jobless totals are not enough. We need to understand how many families are affected. I am sure that this could be done right now.

Housing. Regeneration projects for housing need be better reported. There must be a better way than was done in Stoke-on-Trent of demolishing aging but adequate housing stock before the new housing was in place. Needs reports on population, housing totals, shortfalls, plans.

Again, identified communities will need support from Central Government and councils, but when needs are identified, there could be opportunity for housing associations, community action schemes to bring houses back into the market, but we need to know what is needed before we know what to do.  We may also have to be prepared to pay extra taxes to get them.

Belonging.  We all have a need to belong somewhere and to feel we are of value. This is where communities can do the most.  This is commonly achieved by people joining clubs, societies, hobby groups, educational establishments, cultural activity etc.  Cut backs have had a dramatic effect on these. There is need for some reporting about what facilities are available, how they are used and what people feel there is missing from the community. This is something that the community can do for itself, but they will need help from local councils to provide meeting places, publicity etc. People need to feel that they belong to communities, not that they are prevented from belonging because of cutbacks.

How do you measure the value of the Community?

That is a difficult one. But I believe community adds so much to individual life, It give friendship, it gives respect to yourself and others, it gives a sense of place, a feeling of belonging, of not being alone. That’s worthwhile in itself. It also helps people that don’t have these things to find them. That’s why I believe communities are important, why we must protect and cherish them.  Maybe some brighter person than me can produce measures that show how many keep their sanity because of the community, how many people avoid illness because of the community, how many people find their place in life because of the community.

That way we may have a happier, healthier, more caring society. We may also have empty hospitals for all the right reasons!

Now that I have written all these thoughts down, maybe I can devote some time to making some sense of them!

David Poole