Community. Really.

I’m not usually particularly vocal with my political views, but there’s something about having a baby that makes you that little bit more outspoken. Especially about things that affect her. So if you think that might be a problem, then I sincerely apologise, I simply want to share a few thoughts about something that’s been on my mind recently.

When my health visitor came to see us when baby was about 10 days old, she told me that there was a breastfeeding cafe that I might like to go to running at the local Sure Start Centre. I’d not really had anything to do with the Sure Start Centres before, but I was having a really rough time with breastfeeding so I decided to go, even though I was nervous.

From the first moment that I walked in and was greeted with smiles and asked how I was getting on, not just by the health visitors but the other mums there too, that group, and various others at the Sure Start Centre, have become the pivotal point around which my weeks revolve. I have met some wonderful people and we have shared many thousands of coffees and biscuits in cafes, each other’s homes and the Centre itself while we have discussed absolutely everything under the sun. From the colour of poo to nap times. From first weaning foods to ways of preventing dry skin. We have talked and talked about how each baby is learning, growing and developing and shared each other’s joys, pains and frustrations. This is community.

I have also become part of some ‘mum’ groups on Facebook, mostly for buying and selling baby things (which is a great money saver!). Although I don’t often ‘socialise’ through these, I see others doing so and receiving support and affirmation in their mumhood journeys. The other day a young mother had posted that she was heartbroken to be posting, but that she was selling a wrap sling because she desperately needed the money. Another mum suggested that rather than selling it, if 40 mums all gave her £1 then she could keep it and continue to have that important and lovely bond that is developed through baby wearing (that’s the fancy name for carrying your baby in a sling of some sort.). What followed was nothing short of a tirade of support and love for a mother that I imagine most people had never met. People giving all that they could even if it was a small amount and saying they knew how hard things can be. I think that this lovely bright purple wrap became a symbol for two things much bigger than it- the unconditional love a mother has for her children and the depth and value of being joined to one another in support and care. This is community.

We cannot live without each other. That I have always known to be true, and have found to be more true since having a baby. And here’s the political bit. The Sure Start Centres were set up as a way of bringing people together, sharing learning and helping parents come together to give their children the best start that they could. The region where I live really promoted these centres with 43 in total- that’s pretty much one in every locality. The ease of availability of the services provided- groups, courses and events, meant that no-one had to feel alone or without community. But now almost ¾ of the centres are being ‘redistributed’ (closed), including my nearest one. There is a real sense of community dissolving because even though the next one is only a 10 minute drive away, even this is a barrier to many.

People are meant to live in community. They are meant to share, learn and live alongside each other. I can’t help feeling that our current government, despite some of the things they say, actually don’t see the world this way because their actions speak about promoting the individual as a single unit rather than as part of a group. People are just individual items in their own house, their own car, sitting behind their own computer screen. And that’s not how the world should work. Community is beautiful and people thrive when they are together. When they can share what they have and receive from others. It is not a bad thing to rely on other people. This is how we are created. In fact there’s even a Bible verse that describes this very thing happening thousands of years ago. The people in the first churches shared everything they had and ensured that no-one was in need*. This is community.

I am anxious about the next few years with a Conservative government because I feel like instead of being encouraged to grow together in community, people are supported to work for themselves and to get as much as they can for themselves. In my view this is a very narrow-minded and selfish way to view the world. I am sad for the closures of the Sure Start Centres because I feel like a valuable piece of the community jigsaw is being taken away. It is hard enough for people to leave their houses and become entwined with others. It feels like it is just going to get even harder.

*Acts 2:42-47

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