I’m a village girl at heart.
I can pretend all I like that I’m a Londoner but growing up in the country has left its indelible mark on me. It’s not the fact I smile at strangers and don’t have a Pret obsession that gives me away, it’s my dogged determination to carve a little bit of community wherever I rest my hat. For context, I’m the girl who always unpacks her suitcase into the provided wardrobe and drawers on weekends away because I like to feel settled. Community is and has been an incredibly important part of my life.
Returning to the village to hide from COVID-19 at my parent’s house 4 months ago I was shocked. The church had no vicar. All 3 pubs had closed. And the village hall was pasting adverts all over trying to rent out its parking spaces. I felt gutted. As someone who mainly heads home for occasions (birthdays, Christmas etc) the village has always felt quite magical, a supportive and tight-knit hug of a place, sort of cosy. And here it was suddenly feeling very bare bones.
You see, the problem is big business is killing our local communities right under our noses. And we haven’t noticed. The community that gets our attention is the one where we spend most of our time and money. And for most of us that’s where we work. We leave our home to go to the office. We buy things online. We socialise on our apps. And while we’ve been scrolling through our Facebook feeds as we wait in the queue for our morning double foam oat milk lattes, the place we live in has become a ghost town and the groups and clubs who give us purpose have become un-rewarding sweatshops for their leaders.
And it’s our fault. We’ve been absent. Distracted. And, to be honest, in the dark about the needs of our community leaders and spaces. But the pandemic has given businesses an opportunity to speak out about their struggles publicly without pride getting in the way because, frankly, we’re all in the same boat. I’m sure the words “Such a shame! I loved that pub. I wish I knew they’d been struggling” have been the mantra of the past 6 months. Because looking at the stats, my village is not a rare case. 95% of village halls are struggling to stay open (ACRE report) and 2/3 of groups on Meetup operate at a loss (primary research).
We have to effect a system change. And now is the perfect time.
It isn’t a matter of convincing people that local is important. 50% of people would happily donate locally if given the option (TSB Bank Survey for Small Charities Week, 2016) It’s just a case of shifting the focus of where your priority community is. And COVID-19 has provided the impetus for that shift. People are working from home. No longer absent. Not distracted by the big business ads (who interestingly have made a complete shift to softer values-based messaging) and awakened to the value of local businesses, spaces and organisers. It’s no surprise that DIY sales skyrocketed and some golf clubs have seen a spike in membership signups. People are feathering their nests and looking to engage with local services and facilities. The focus has shifted to local living. The new priority community.
Local businesses and community leaders have responded to the pleas of those falling foul of ‘no delivery slots’ and ‘cancelled because of COVID’ in a more human way. By being quicker to adapt, and in some cases pivot, than their behemoth counterparts, local providers have shown their value, mettle and community spirit. And customers shopping locally or taking part in local club activities virtually for the first time don’t show signs of forgetting that. (ONS COVID-19 report, July 2020)
COVID-19 has changed our living, working, socialising and buying behaviours forever. We have new criteria for our purchases, hanging more value on loyalty, locality and personal connection with the business owner. We don’t expect things to arrive quickly because we’ve had more free time. We’re re-prioritising our social activities because we’ve seen that we can do a lot virtually. Do we really need to attend that meeting today or can we dial in? Is it really worth the drive to that 45 minute concert or is the livestream good enough?
The demand for local community is strong. And the spaces, leaders and businesses are crying out for attention and support.
It just needs an infrastructure to connect the two.
Enter More Human.
Contact us if you’d like to follow our journey, or come along for the ride.