I’ve been fascinated to read the responses of the past week to mine and Adele’s recent posts on revillaging – it seems to resonate so deeply within so many of us, as well as bring up to a whole host of emotions from grief, to frustration to hope and gratitude. Many people also seem to be discussing and pondering over just how this looks, in our modern, busy, world, often with absence of living in an actual small physical ‘village’ or intentional community, and with work and everyday life often taking up so much of our time.
So I thought I’d write today on one practical way to foster to community, a place you could start, or somewhere to focus if your diary feels full and you feel pulled in all directions but never really filled up – and that place is close to home.
A big part of ‘revillaging’ for us, connecting more with community, has been committing to living more locally, where we can.
I think a real barrier to connecting with people, can be focusing on finding / connecting to people who are just like us, or those we aspire to be like – we connect with them online, we seek them out in real life, we feel kinship with those who share our views, have similar family setups or lived experiences. There is something so beautiful in finding kindred spirits and a special place in our hearts and lives for those who share our values or inspire us, but I also think there is so much to be gained in loving those who are, in a literal sense, closest to us. Our neighbours and those in our nearest towns and villages.
One of the reasons I think seeking local friendships is so important is because fostering more local connections allows you to really be there for your friends. Some of our very best friends live around 45 minutes away, and one recently moved all the way to the South coast, and I really feel it can be hard on our hearts – we can be there for each other in terms of emotional support (i’m truly grateful for Whatsapp!), and I have no doubt in an emergency we are there for each other unconditionally, but in terms of practical help it is a huge, huge barrier. I can’t pick my friends children up from school for her, I can’t easily nip over and mind their home educated children while they pop out to a daytime appointment alone, I can’t drop off a pot of soup or stew when they are under the weather or nip in for a cuppa / to drop something off if i’m passing – and they can’t do any of those things for me either. It becomes a different kind of relationship – an undoubtedly special and valued one, but I feel we have a deep need for closer, everyday practical relationships too, and I have a feeling sometimes that in the days of social media keeping us seemingly ‘connected’ and ‘in touch’, it can be these nourishing everyday relationships we are missing the most.
Here are some practical ways we’ve found that help to build community locally:
Go on foot / bike or public transport – If you are able, and privileged to have a neighbourhood / local park to walk around I’ve found it a really great way to make local connections. Having routes we follow consistently, we end up seeing the same people, catching up and cementing friendships with neighbours, chatting to dog walkers we see often, recognising and meeting another parent you see with her toddler in the park. Biking (with frequent kid stops!), or public transport always feels more sociable than when we take the car too.
Find local groups and projects to support – Our local childrens centre toddler group and the local friends I made there, was an absolute lifeline for me back when I was a new mama at home with 2 under 2, and the community at our local allotment was a lovely welcoming community in our last town. Getting involved with the local environmental activism group has been fantastic for meeting people in our new area, since we moved onto our farm. Whether its yoga, sport, nature, parenting, politics, history, womens circles or whatever it is you are interested in, dropping in to an established group is a wonderful way to connect with people and feel part of something. We’ve begun to really, really feel the benefits of being more intentional about where we spend our time – choosing a gymnastic class for the girls a few minutes away in the nearest village, as opposed to a 45 minute drive to the home education gymnastic class I’d almost joined. Focusing on the classes / events / projects we get involved in being local then also means the people we meet through them then also tend to be local, and go on to become friends. Facebook, Googling, local noticeboards and following active community members on their social media channels are all easy ways to see what is going on around you.
Practically, trying to live locally rather than spending our days or weekends travelling out also means we spend less on transport, spend less time driving / travelling to things and can live life at a slower pace that allows more time for other things.
Set something up – If you have the ability / inclination or you can’t find things to dip into, try setting something up. Ask around in person or online to see if friends / anyone locally would like to attend a class / group with you, or just go for a walk / run, meet once a month at yours for a night together / coffee morning. We recently set up a little toddler group on our farm with a local forest school leader and its been a fantastic way to meet some new local families. Social media can be an easy way to reach out to people you know and new people – it’s a priority for me that I use social media as a tool to help facilitate and enhance connection, not as a substitute for it (its an easy hole to fall into – and something I’d like to write much more about soon!) .
Support local shops and businesses – visiting a shop, a local bakery and greengrocers rather than, or in addition to a big supermarket, if it is something that is accessible for you (I know it’s often a privilege to have the time) can be a lovely way to build your village. Doing so regularly has in the past few years of living here has meant we’ve got to know the family behind our local farm shop, learned about their history here, and they’ve got to forge relationships with our children and see our family grow. We’ve made friends and business connections at another local greengrocers, and been gifted heirloom seeds from one of the staff there who shares our passion for gardening. The same goes for visiting and using more small, local businesses like cafes and attractions – it’s not just with an aim of making friends, but of weaving social connection into the fabric of everyday life.
I’m noticing more and more, that when we go somewhere now – whether its a walk down the road or popping into a cafe, there is usually always someone we recognise there to say hello or chat to, and that sense of being known and seen and connected, it can be a salve for the wound of those feeling lonely or isolated.
Offer and asking for help – Need someone to help you shift a sofa? Have some extra baby plants or something you no longer use you want to give away? Shout out to your family / friends / on your local facebook groups / freecycle etc. Offer help, give help when others ask (if you can) and ask for it when you need it too (this is something in particular we have really struggled with).
We are often so used and conditioned to living our lives alone and doing it all ourselves that this can feel really hard, but is just such a huge connection builder when we allow ourselves to lean on each other. The following excerpt from one of my favourite books of all time, The Art of Frugal Hedonism, explains this so perfectly and highlights how sharing resources not only is kinder to earth and less fuelling of the capitalist machine, but so much more connecting each other too.
Shifting to living more communally means change – being more open, learning to navigate conflict and differences and hold healthy boundaries, giving more and receiving more – it’s a huge adjustment for so many of us. Putting ourselves out there often leaves us feeling really vulnerable – it takes courage and work to build a village of social connections, but I’m convinced it is essential not just for personal wellbeing but as a foundation for tackling much bigger societal issues ranging from inequality to overconsumption to depression and climate change.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and other ways of revillaging. Also please check out the posts on instagram by Lulastic Blog, Sage Parenting and Adele Jarett Kerr who are also writing on this topic today.