A discussion on social media had led to some pretty negative attitudes from a few local residents coming Gorgeous Gorse Hill’s way and it got me thinking about community. What is a community? Margaret Thatcher famously said, there is no such thing as society (a term closely linked to community initiatives). Was she right? There are so many initiatives at the moment that encourage communities to take ownership of what happens to them, to influence this, to drive it and increasingly to do it themselves.
But when we think of community do we all think of the same thing? Is community those who live in a certain area, or do we include those who work and visit it too? Do some people’s opinions count more than others? Do those who have lived there the longest have a more important opinion than those who’ve lived there the shortest time? Do adults’ opinions count more than children’s?
These are all complex questions and when you are a voluntary community group who are trying to improve things in their local community they can plague you. How do you know everyone likes what you’re doing? How do you find out? Should you ask them all individually and not do anything until each and everyone have had their say; but then what if they don’t agree with you? Let alone each other and the ultimate challenge if you are a bunch of volunteers who are trying to fit this in around their work, caring responsibilities and just day to day life how can you achieve anything?
It’s a challenge for sure. It’s one that we do our best to overcome. We try to make sure everyone is aware of the group, how they can contact the group and ensure we promote our meetings, consultations, activities as much as possible using as many mediums: noticeboards, leaflet drops, social media, websites, newspapers and good old-fashioned door knocking. Social media can really help us with this, but it can also be a double-edged sword; it enables those who may not be able to comment to feed in their opinions but equally it can open the door to levels of criticism that the protagonists are unlikely to ever do face to face.
But at the end of the day you have to take a plunge, a plunge into the unknown. Because, no matter how much you consult, inform and promote there will always be different opinions, different tastes and different feelings. When you are a volunteer group, you have to then try to manage this (along with your job, your kids, your disabled family, your cat, your dog and the endless rain), you have to try not to let it get you down, you have to remain professional and approachable and try to understand different opinions and hope they will understand yours.