Last week I was quoted £200 to hire our local village hall for a two-hour children’s party on a Saturday. There are reasons for this which to the committee (all volunteers, I emphasise, and it is a big job to manage alongside everything else, I’m sure, and not for remuneration) who run the hall and its workings are very good ones as to why on Saturdays they only hire the hall for the entire day (which is what the cost reflects), and then not on Sundays; but obviously for me it wasn’t really an acceptable offer. In fact, I assumed I’d misheard the voicemail left in response to my initial query, so exorbitant and (to the business profit maximisation side of my brain) surreal was the pricing structure.
It brought into sharp relief how perhaps I’ve taken village inclusivity for granted. I love living here and have found a sense of belonging and proper community which I wasn’t able to find elsewhere I lived. But during that brief conversation I felt awkward, an outsider, persona non gratis. I live here, and they didn’t want me.
Now, afterwards I rapidly got over it and remembered that I was channelling my employed behaviour and simply don’t like not being able to negotiate myself into a more favourable situation – and believe me, the hall hirer wasn’t for turning. But right then it hurt, and in that moment I saw how important it is to take individual responsibility to shore up our local communities in whatever ways we feel we can. I am very cynical about the reasons why Cameron has championed his ‘Big Society’ – saving money by forcing the community to take responsibility for various services previously supplied by local authorities, perhaps? But here’s the official line. Regardless of any of that, the principle of finding a place to feel at home and comfortable and working with the others living there to make it better for everyone, to me that intention doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Because in a survey last year, 26% of us don’t even know our neighbours’ names. And more disturbingly, we might not even recognise them either.
No-one should feel responsible for the life and times of everyone around them, and in my view no-one should take on so many community commitments that they lose vital space for themselves; but there are people who feel how I felt about the village hall rejection, all the time, where they live, and I personally don’t like the idea of that. I’m fortunate that I live in such a kind community that I can be super-sensitive over a teeny little isolated event; but there are people who walk anonymously through their surroundings every day, feeling invisible to those whose eyes they lock regularly.
I would hope I don’t do that, look away; but the importance of not doing it has been thrown into sharp relief.