What is ‘community’? Growing up in the 1980s, community to me was my immediate neighbours, basically the street that I lived on. That sort of mindset has stayed with me, in most part, but working in the voluntary sector has shown me that community need not be geographic.
The advent of social media and the Internet in general birthed the idea of ‘online communities’ and if you’re online at all you are probably part of one or more. It might be the Facebook group dedicated to a hobby that interests you, or the WhatsApp group for the street or wider area in which you live.
Offline, you might visit the Men’s Hub at The Cornerstone in Lancaster on a Friday, or go along to the Rainbow Centre in Morecambe, or the Friendship Centre’s luncheon club near Lancaster Town Hall. You might meet a group of friends at weekends to chat or eat or drink and those friends might not live anywhere near you. You might attend regular worship close to, or further away from your home.
You might not even meet at all. You might enjoy a particular type of music and feel connected to similarly minded people in that way, knowing that should you ever attend a concert you will be part of one big, friendly group, or community.
You might be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or finding out who you are and so feel connected in that way. You might have a family background that stretches across oceans, grounding you in another place and perhaps time, or you might have faced challenges and find your place with others who have struggled and overcome or are still struggling. Community is where we feel surrounded and supported by people who accept and understand us, where we feel safe, where we feel loved.
If you feel like you are not part of a community, perhaps isolated, lonely, it might be that you haven’t considered what community is for you, what it looks and feels like. Just because you don’t talk to or even know your neighbours doesn’t mean that you are without a community. It can be a challenge stepping outside of one comfort zone in order to try to find another, but it is possible and there are countless communities – geographic, physical, digital, even conceptual – out there ready to welcome you when you are ready.