The call of Bournville

And two days after an inspiring trip to New Lanark, I am in Bournville for an event with the Co-operative Party. Two utopias in a week!


George Cadbury intended Bournville as a model village for “the labouring population in and around Birmingham, and elsewhere in Great Britain.” The first houses went up in 1895 and the area overseen by the Bournville Village Trust now has around nineteen thousand residents. 

A review a few years back by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation concludes that Bournville is an exemplar of a good neighbourhood. Although the village, like New Lanark, was conceived top down by ethical business leaders, researchers note the extent to which there has always been community involvement in managing what goes on. Perhaps we could say Bournville, like Letchworth Garden City, are the longest running modern experiments in community economic development in the world. And they work.

But there are tensions. It is a cohesive community, with strong ties. One in three (37%) have family members living in the direct neighbourhood. But as the researchers say “there are tensions between ideas of cohesion and exclusion, indeed, cohesion may appear to be strengthened through exclusion.” 

The Trust has since, it appears, taken up the challenge of diversity. And if we were starting a new utopia today, we would surely start with openness, and sustainability, at its heart. Or perhaps that is Findhorn and the growing number of eco-villages around the world run on co-operative and communitarian lines. That is the great challenge of our day – how do we build community in an open, restless world? 

This too has been the connecting theme of my accidental week visiting two of Britain’s greatest utopias: how should we flourish together?

Where next?

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