Monday, December 01, 2008

Stoke: many modern communities with they key to happiness

This might be the most positive story you will ever read about Cobridge in the mainstream media.

The census results, obscure though they might be (anomie? what's this, a referendum question?), pin down the reason that many of us find hard to articulate about why we love being in Stoke. We feel a sense of belonging to our community, or perhaps several different communities.

And what's so good about this is that it's so thoroughly modern. As I've tweeted in passing (hooray for this new thought trail), a morning in Burslem is not unlike one in Twitter. Conversations everywhere, news to catch up on, links to follow up. It's what makes people love Burslem and feel so sad when it is empty.

Just like the web, these communities run the risk of operating in silos (the current voguish word, I prefer to say trenches). They can chatter away and never cross paths. But that in itself is not the problem. The fact that these communities have had to compete in an ever-diminishing job market, with decreasing opportunities to mix and with limited educational opportunities, has caused divisions. As the Cobridge article shows, the community builders and connectors are plentiful in Stoke. The most invigorating meetings I go to are full of grassroots organisers, fighting their different corners and finding connections. These people have been ignored for decades, but maybe - in the new connected world where you don't have to go to London to get anything done - their time has now come. With the right support, we can become better at finding connections and building capacity without additional funding. With greater investment, we can develop enterprising communities in which everyone feels they have a part to play.

The interest shown by the government over the last few months in social enterprise has made me wonder whether they would consider putting as much investment into social enterprise centres and support as is planned for retail. I don't know whether it's too late to divert the £220 million pounds that are going to be spent clearing the Coachmakers and some piles of concrete to build yet another shopping centre, but it would be nice to think that more of our shops could be like this, instead of like this.

Does that show a lack of ambition? Maybe. But if we've already defeated "anomie", aren't simple opportunities to make a decent wage doing something we like all we need to aspire to?

3 comments:

Carolyn Powell said...

And it could also be because Stoke hasn't been through many of the developments that cause the social fragmentation. This could be interpreted in different ways, firstly that there are definate, tangible social advantages to there being very little 'progress' (I use this term carefully) within a city, and equally, a price has been paid in social developement terms for the apparent advancement and regeneration of cities. The question here is, how do we have both?

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