How do we understand the surge of community spirit in the UK?

The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم is reported to have said “Let whosoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day honour his neighbour.

In that spirit, there is a great report out today from the Muslim Charities Forum, The Neighbours Next Door which tells the stories of just under two hundred Muslim charities and groups proving community support over the pandemic.

A similar story can no doubt be told of the local contribution of other faith communities and voluntary organisations.

At Pilotlight our members, drawn from the world of business, have been working with the charity Sport4Life since 2018, supporting it to develop and grow. The CEO and founder Tom Clarke-Forrest is wonderfully now a bursary Pilotlighter himself, helping to spread that support and guidance to other charities and social enterprises. This moving video talks to the work of Sport4Life with young people over the pandemic.

All this is a heartwarming reminder of the extent of community cooperation across the UK

A decade ago, I was part of a research team looking at neighbourliness. We concluded across the UK, there are at least twenty one million conversations taking place each day between neighbours. Fourteen million people drop round for a chat with their neighbour.

But… set against this, the UK is ranked as one of the more lonely countries in the world and it has been a tough time for those who are alone and feel alone.

How do we understand the surge of community spirit under COVID-19 in the UK?

The Neighbours Next Door report warns that “At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in the UK, there was an outpouring of compassion from the public with a desire to volunteer and serve their communities during this unprecedented time leading to many voluntary sector organisations having long volunteer waiting lists. However, as the lockdown eases, and individuals get back to work, the number of volunteers may fall despite the need to support the community not diminishing.”

Perhaps the conclusion is that we should respect but not idealise what can be done through the spirit of self help and mutual aid. Our sense of community can be inspired by our values or our faith, but still fall short. It may be that we are closer to the seventeenth century aphorism of the Welsh poet, George Herbert, who adds a cautionary note “Love your neighbour, yet pull not downe your hedge.

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