I was lucky enough to visit Morocco recently with some friends. It struck me how all the locals we met referred to their fellow Moroccans as ‘brother’ or ‘family’. There seemed to be a mutual understanding of being part of a wider community that looked out for each other – sharing recommendations for each other’s businesses, holding hands physically and metaphorically.
The fact that it stood out to me so much, as a Londoner, (although perhaps not revelatory) is very telling, that somewhere along the way we’ve lost touch with our sense of collective identity. Focussing more on personal growth, and less on supporting each other to succeed.
Jon Snow’s recent C4 docu-series ‘How to live to 100’, shows him traveling around various global communities who are outliving the average life span and exploring why that might be. There seems to be a common thread that these people live in a non-competitive, mutually advantageous way.
Obviously there are many more factors at play here, which can’t be over-simplified. Not to mention the huge advantage we enjoy as Londoners, due to the diversity of communities sitting side-by-side in one vibrant cosmopolitan city.
However, we hear more and more about the epidemic of loneliness in this city, with divided communities, exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis and the post-Covid fall-out on our collective mental health.
Marry this with the emergence of a more isolated way of living – the disappearance of the village and the push towards urban efficiency – towers and apartment blocks, nuclear (rather than intergenerational) family homes.
Add to that the decline of religion across the UK – something that historically bound people with a fundamental set of beliefs, and the growth of social media laying bare pop-culture trends of the moment, as opposed to long-standing traditions – and you can see why history and traditions of old don’t feel so relevant.
When you start to paint this picture, you can see why people are feeling more disconnected, more lonely.
My question would be how we recreate the village. A sense of intimacy and a neighbourly attitude to those around us. How can we create more social cohesion in cities to help each of us find our own sense of belonging?
In one small corner of Bermondsey, we have created a microcosm of 28 people living communally, under one roof. For the last two years, we have welcomed people from every corner of the world who have brought their own respective cultures and identities into the space and opened their hearts and minds to share theirs and welcome others.
Together, rooted in a simple belief that living together is better than living alone as well as a hunger to try something different, we have seen a culture emerge – a culture of openness and sharing. It’s been a wild and wonderful experiment in a new way of living, and a proof of concept in a way, that being part of a community can in fact help you discover your own sense of self, rather than letting personal growth be the stumbling block that separates us from a strong, cohesive collective culture.
What I love most about what I do, is the conversations we have as a team about big sticky societal issues like this. And the fact that those people who made a brave, adventurous decision to live with us, are helping us navigate some ways that we can start to address them together.
Our ears are always open for ideas and feedback. Feel free to get in touch with yours.