In Lost Connections, Johann Hari tells an inspiring story about a rent protest in Berlin in 2011. The residents’ action led to some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in the city changing their lives completely just by getting involved in their street to support a neighbour. They made strong, caring relationships with people they had lived beside for years but never knew. One lady recalled that, in Turkey, they referred to their entire village as ‘home.’ When they came to Germany, they learned that what you are supposed to think of as home is ‘your own four walls and the space within them – a pinched, shrivelled sense of home.’ (Hari, Johann. Lost Connections. (p.176) Bloomsbury Publishing)
During my first year working in Methil, I spent time talking to local people about their town. When I asked what people liked about Methil, sometimes older people looked at me as if the answer was obvious, I’ve stayed here for 67 years; I like Methil because it is my home town, where I have grown up; just living here – been here all my life, wouldn’t live anywhere else; Methil meant home. When I asked younger people what their favourite place in Methil was, some really struggled for an answer, then said their home, their house.
The ladies I’m working with on heritage projects have lived through times that have given them cause to feel pride in their town, a pride and sense of belonging that has endured. They have lived through a world war, miners strikes, they’ve worked in back-breaking jobs where people lost their lives. The community didn’t have a lot materially, but they were rich in family, friends, work, shops and social opportunities. Methil was vibrant.
According to a Big Lunch report, Closing the Distance Between Us, people in the UK experience a greater level of social isolation and less neighbourhood belonging than any other EU country . Methil, despite its challenges, has lots of community activities but coaxing people to come out of their houses and take part in the community is a challenge that collectively we must work very hard on. Lots of small actions that add up, publicity, face to face communication and attractive offers are all essential.
The Making History Group has raised funds to establish Methil’s first set of exterior community information boards. The group has run reminiscence History Cafés, one held on a Sunday afternoon when 30 people from 14 year olds to 80 year olds danced and laughed together to a play list of their old favourite tracks. A coffee morning for mums has recently started as well as a full day crafting workshop with a creche to attract new participants.
The Berlin story reminds us that actions with big impact often start with one person. One sunny morning, one of the Making History Group members said that years ago on a day like this you’d take a chair out to your front door with your knitting and neighbours would join you. It struck me as a lovely small action with great power.