Community Matters!

I moved in the Spring of 2022 to a small town with 14,000 or so residents. Coincidently, it had just been named the best place to live in the UK. In truth, I tend to take these things with a pinch of salt, however in this case I would agree. I found a strong sense of local community, often missing in cities and larger towns, friendly and welcoming with the feeling of everyone being connected. Great for someone who had relocated to a new area like me, without knowing a soul. Just a warm greeting and a short chat in the morning on the way to work can make a huge difference to anyone’s day.

In the past few years, during Covid some real bonds had formed between neighbours looking out for each other and family members finding ways to keep in touch, however difficult. As we move through 2023 many people are still thinking of ways to help others. We have seen a lot of changes, from rising inflation to the ongoing costs of living, for many times are getting harder, so it’s natural that more of us want to try to help those who live close by and the places they live in better. Small things can have a big impact.

We hear the word Community a lot right now: from small locally run charities and groups to larger social business enterprises such as Community Clothing. (Founded by designer Patrick Grant,to provide affordable clothing made in British factories which has been a huge support to the local communities) But, all ventures, large, small, ambitious or modest can be of benefit.

But, what does it actually mean? I had to do some research as I wasn’t fully sure.

The most general translation appears to be: a group of people who share a common way of life which is expressed in shared beliefs, goals, values, purpose, responsibilities and communication.

You can define a community by the shared attributes of the people in it and/or by the strength of the connections among them. A culture of taking care of each other while accepting people’s differences. I think that been accepted is important. The sense of being part of something larger than we are is well- known as a source of good feeling. A bit like joining a team. Much more can be achieved in a group than by a solo pursuit.

Why are communities so important? They are often an important source of social connection and a sense of belonging. Our communities shape our understanding of others. Participating in a community bonded by attitudes, values, and goals can be an essential ingredient to enjoying a fulfilling life.

6 benefits of community and connection in challenging times:

  • Vital social connection and engagement.
  • Community belonging boosts physical and mental health.
  • Resilient communities come together and adapt.
  • Never being alone.
  • Easy access to well-balanced, nutritious meals.
  • Assuring safety and well-being.

Charities, groups and volunteers are going that extra mile in supporting each other and those in need. Community Foundations across the UK tackle the issue of elderly isolation by funding small, local charities and community groups who do wonderful work to help older people to cope with numerous challenges that life throws their way and to help them maintain social contact in their local community.

What can we do. Volunteering can be both rewarding and significant. Should you want to help people who are local to you, take a look at some of the organisations in your area. I have been surprised how many organisations there are local to me. There are many different ways to offer your services in a volunteering capacity.

Showing your support for local enterprises is a great way to help your local area by giving back to the local economy. One a simple level, just taking the time to acknowledge others, kindness and a smile go a long way!

The Great British Bake-Off

I heard some great news today. On Tuesday the 22nd of September its the return of the Great British Bake-off, complete with a new line-up. The wonderful Sandi Toksvig (like the equally wonderful Mary Berry) will be sadly missed. I am not a fan of reality TV, but once in a while something slips through the rubbish that is actually worth watching like; The British Sewing Bee, Painter of the Year and The Great British Bake- off. Anything that shows you a new skill is always good to watch and talk about!

Home- baking featured heavily in Lock-down 2020, flour was like gold dust as baking was seen as a great way of passing the time. Children learnt to bake with their parents, as I did as a child. The extra pounds gained from eating all these lovely sugar-filled treats was not so good. Now we are all have to eat less and exercise more to get back in shape, but it was worth it. My niece loves baking but takes what she makes into her workplace rather than eating it herself, much kinder to her waistline. Making her very popular with her colleagues too.

Before the Great British Bake-Off came to our screens. Home- Baking was seen as the domain of the WI, garden fetes and Grand-mothers. Now it’s for everyone and the marketplace is full of trendy, creative, youthful bakers, male and female. Even Waterstones has shelves full of baking books.

First aired on BBC Two on the 17th of August 2010, GBBO as it’s known as was an instant hit. I’ve become completely addicted. Whether it’s learning about the intricacies of the perfect pie crust, obsessing about soggy bottoms or lusting after the delicious cakes.

If you haven’t come across it before; the general idea is that ten home bakers take part in a bake-off to test every aspect of their skills as they battle to be crowned the Great British Bake Off’s best amateur baker. The series follows the trials and tribulations of the competitors, young and old, from every background and corner of Britain. They’re home cooks with a sense of humility and fun making them very likeable and watchable. Many past contestants have gone on to appear on their own series and produce books. Each week the bakers tackle a different baking skill. Cake-baking, pastry, bread-making and patisserie skills are all shown, ending with a showstopper which is the most creative. The tasks becoming progressively more difficult. Sometimes the results are successful and at times a total disaster. With lots of laughter and tears along the way. In a world where everyone wanting to be the best, it’s refreshing to see a group of people who genuinely cheer each other on. There’s a real sense of community and friendship, that does not feel forced. The spirit of kindness and niceness runs through the program. It’s no small thing in today’s world to be kind. But if a bunch of home bakers can bond over biscuits, it makes me feel like perhaps the rest of us can show a bit more kindness too.

It’s almost echoing back to a different era of tea parties, picnics and nostalgic Britain. Aprons, bunting and marques have all had a fashionable comeback. Home- made is seen as special and not more inferior than shop bought. Even the pretty hand-draw pictures that are used on GBBO have a special, unique character. I think that its a good thing to be nostalgic at times, particularly in such an era of uncertainty, anxiety and upheaval. Anything that makes you smile or reminisce about easier times can be uplifting. It’s not about looking backwards rather than forwards, but maybe some accepts of the past are worth returning to; making more ourselves, been happier with less, community, finding pleasure in simple things and teaching our younger generation to be able to make things etc. As I mentioned in my previous blog, statistics have shown we are less content now than in the 1950’s. It’s unrealistic to go back 60 years, but surely its worth considering why these were happier times and what can we learn. So as to change for the better. Happy Baking.

The Effects of Coronavirus- Good and Bad

Six months on, whilst I truly hope the worse effects of coronavirus are over and that some sense of normal life can return. It has to be said that life may never be quite the same as before. Now, I’m asking about the effects of the virus on our life’s both, good and bad. Now I realise that for many people it does seem all bad. With job cuts, worries about future loss of work and businesses closing, there is much too worry about. But I always feel that from bad situations some good must come too.

This was such a huge wake-up call for us all. Having to stay in our homes with our partners and families for months was a challenge, as was not shopping or going out. But how many of us, have become closer to our loved ones, having spent more time with them. Parents tried home-schooling and many of us had a go at new and old hobbies. Rather than just watching The Great British Bake-off we actually started baking ourselves. And to help us keep active Mr Motivator came out of retirement and back on TV to keep us moving. Joe Wicks kept your children active and let’s face it, cheered up a few mothers too. Gardening, decorating and all those unfinished tasks were finally done. We all got to meet up with family and friends via Zoom or Messager. My family has been having weekly quizzes on Zoom, which has been fun as well as educational. Puzzles, jigsaws and reading became cool again.

Oddly enough despite the restrictions many of us ate a healthier diet and got more exercise. Families cooked and ate together. Younger generations were forced to stay in and actually interact with their families. We found ourselves time rich rather than time poor. Socializing outside the home ceased. We have been forced to spend less, travel was impossible and we mostly could only spend on food. Its been a time to reconsider what is essential, to reappraise life and decide if we needed to spend as much as we did? Are we living to work or working to life?

Some industries were able to adapt to home-working and this may become a more flexible way for people to work in the future which may benefit working mothers and reduce long commutes to work. We have seen how different ways to work can succeed. Even our Queen has been using Zoom. Unable to source goods from China, British factories produced what was needed. Will we continue to manufacture our own goods instead of importing?

Communities have come together to help those less fortunate than themselves. Many have volunteered, or shopped for those that couldn’t leave their homes or have helped to make extra uniforms and masks for our hospitals. Businesses, both local and national have donated to the health service and to those that needed the help most. Despite the restrictions incredible individuals still continued to raise valuable funds for charities. Our wonderful National Health service has been honoured every week when whole streets around the country came out of their homes to clap for them together.

I do hope that the renewed sense of community can continue as this will surely aid our recovery.

Now for the bad, the stock piling of food and essential cleaning products was shocking, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic. I had to go to eight different supermarkets to find cleaning products to clean my shop, whist it was open for business and as the shelves were all empty I had to take my own cleaning products to work. Essential workers like nurses and doctors were unable to get food for themselves and their families, the older members of the population also had to go without because of stockpiling which was a downright disgrace. Particularly as this only happened in the UK and not in other countries.

Over-eating, drinking too much, over sleeping and spending too much time gaming or watching TV and not getting exercise at all was the new normal for some. My heart does go out to anyone having to go into isolation on their own or to anyone who found the situation caused great anxiety, fear and depression. I do hope than this has now improved a little for you.

Moving on, slowly things are returning if not to normality then to the new normal. Perhaps our values have changed, we can see what is more important to us. Many lost loved ones. The most precious thing of all is to spend time with the ones we love.

The virus lockdown has suspended life and in the return to our everyday life’s have we been through too much to return to our old habits?