Building on our community spirit

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After this long disruption of our lives, we are understandably looking forward to seeing our families and friends. We no doubt relish the opening up of pubs and restaurants and will obviously support this, when it’s safe to do so. We also welcome the ability to return to all our places of worship.

Perhaps now, before that happens, is a good time to think about some of the ways our lives have changed during the seemingly endless weeks of isolation. Isolation that for many will no doubt continue for some time.

The weeks of lockdown have been stressful for those confined to their homes, unable to go to work and barred from mixing with their loved ones. Then there was the added burden of the inability to involve themselves in sports or other leisure activities. This sacrifice has been necessary to protect ourselves and to protect the NHS.

Has there been a positive side to these dramatic changes in our normal everyday routines? We have certainly been given time to think about the very personal aspects of our lives, our relationships, our beliefs and the balance between our work and leisure time. I have spoken to a number of people who have decided to change their jobs and retrain for a new career. Other friends have become much more interested in their faith or discovering some deeper sense of meaning in their lives, through exploring new paths to a greater feeling of wellbeing.

Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield
Photo credit: Richard Townshend via Creative Commons Attribution license

The trauma we have witnessed has shown humankind to be no longer totally in charge of its destiny. We find ourselves unable to be in control of the world around us. We are accustomed to being able to automatically deploy the relevant science, technology or medical resources to sort our problems. Not being in charge of our own lives or destiny at this time can be dispiriting and depressing, but I have seen a lot of evidence of local people responding to these challenges by taking charge in their local communities at grassroots level.

Up and down the country we have seen new neighbourhood groups, revitalised local charities in villages and in the heart of our towns, and people deciding to pitch in to work together to make a difference. Some might be using traditional ways of doing this, but many are using social media and Whatsapp groups to keep in touch, organise and get things done. From helping shielded neighbours with their shopping to assisting parents with child care problems, or organising online quizzes there has been a remarkable flourishing of buzzing little local groups. Many near neighbours who had hardly exchanged words in the past have become friends working together.

All this activity is heart warming and really exciting; but how do we keep this new spirit alive when we start to get back to our old lives? The new normal could be an exciting opportunity to strengthen and grow what we created during the crisis.

For many of us the Thursday night clap, saucepan bashing moments at eight o’clock when we thanked the NHS teams and all those working to save us and save our country, were very special moments. It is that kind of spirit of communities coming together that I hope we can carry forward in the future!

Barry Sheerman has been Labour MP for Huddersfield since 1979.

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