The theme of 2023’s Children’s Mental Health Week, which occurred back in the second week of February, was ‘Let’s Connect’. That resonated with me mainly because I have spoken before on the power of communities and how forming meaningly connections is beneficial to us.
One may underestimate the power that a sense of community has. Especially when you move into a new area or take a mental health turn.
Communities do not have to be exclusive clubs that require membership, but rather a simple open-arms gesture to those around you. These can be from your neighbours to the people you encounter on the local high street – and in recent times, high streets are struggling.
I thought that for this issue, I would re-emphasise the need for community and a sense of belonging. And this comes off the back of several businesses announcing their imminent, or immediate, closure.
For example, at the back end of January, Daniel Farm in Wylam heartbreakingly announced its closure. The site, which included a tearoom, fun farm, gift shop and garden centre, was a favourite for families, as it offered a lot of events for children. The news was hit with a lot of sadness over social media, with one visitor saying, “It is a great shame to lose a valuable part of the community.”
In February, Run Unlimited in Prudhoe announced its own closure news. The store was known for selling running gear and for its motivational games such as treasure hunts to keep runners inspired. It’s such as shame, especially in the run-up to the Great North Run. The news was met with great empathy towards the business.
And those aren’t the only businesses that are closing, in recent months my favourite tea shop Tea Sutra in Newcastle sold its business, and the River Beat restaurant in Gateshead confirmed its closure. I’m sure that there are businesses I haven’t mentioned who have also closed.
Whilst I wish the owners of these businesses luck for their futures, I can’t help but grieve their loss. Places like these inspire adventure and fun, whilst nurturing positive memories for a lot of people.
But with rising energy and fuel costs for everyone, it’s understandable.
The “death of the high street” has become a well-worn political and economic trope. In today’s world, the value of the high street is determined by monetary value, but its most important feature is its aid in the overall sense of community.
Online shopping may be convenient, with the act being able to take place with a mere click of the finger all from the comfort of a bed, but it lacks that unique experience. Going in person to a shop allows connections to grow between the seller and the customer, conversations take place in real-time instead of with AI Chatbots, and you can try before you buy – which also saves time and energy because you don’t have to send things back.
We all know these benefits, but our high streets need our support more than ever before.
So, how can we help?
- Charities and fundraising.
If you are able, donating or fundraising on their behalf can be a huge help. You can also offer your time by volunteering. Volunteering in general offers you the ability to not only help but meet new people and forge new connections.
- Experiencing what your local high street and community has to offer.
Whilst I have lived in this area all my life, I constantly discover new experiences and places. I’ve recently gotten my driving license too which opens doors to widening my sense of community.
Pop into your local coffee shop, walk around the community and see what the local area has to offer. Chat with people in local markets and fairs, and you might just discover your new favourite place or your new favourite small business.
There are plenty of ways to discover new events and groups, for example, the What’s On pages of this very magazine, or the wealth of information on the internet and social media sites.
- The power of social media and recommendations.
A free service to help small businesses is sharing on social media, tagging the business and offering a review. Word of mouth goes a long way. Be kind and courteous and you’ll be thanked in kind by the business. Liking a page or a post also only takes a mere second to do.
- Communication and Conversations
Don’t be afraid to reach out to get recommendations either. Have new conversations, and you may find a shared interest with someone new. Open yourself up to new ways of communicating as well. For example, learning sign language or another language opens up experiences with people of different abilities and cultures, which all aids in widening the community.
A community should be accessible to all, no matter your background or your abilities.
- Be a good neighbour.
Loneliness has increased for everyone in the last year few years, with economic struggles and with the pandemic. By befriending or offering companionship to the more vulnerable in your area, you can help foster a real sense of community and connection. And that goes both ways.
Helping someone else will help increase the ‘social capital’ in your area by creating a network of support for people to draw on in times of struggle. If you are able to do so, offer to collect medication or groceries for your elderly neighbours, walk someone’s dog or have a regular chat with nearby friends and relatives.
These simple actions can make a world of difference to those around you. It takes people coming together to create a strong community spirit. Having a full high street helps with the community, and gives people somewhere to turn to. We need to do all that we can to save that and keep building our communities up as we do so.
It’s a mutual relationship, if we prop our communities up, they will respond in kind. It’s a win, win situation, and we just need to make the effort.