chapter  6
15 Pages

In Search of Community and the Structure of Place

In cafes, at wells, in school playgrounds and at market places we asked people to tell us about community – what is it, why we need it and what it should be like. It was a first attempt to connect our own theoretical understanding of community with experience on the ground, which would help us understand and care for community as an ideal, nurture it as a place and engage it as an organization. We searched for those systems and networks, often hidden, which give community its form and character, which we might then use and build on to discipline our interventions. First responses were all about place: a place for trading and networking, some said, a waiting place – somewhere you know you’ve arrived. A place for wasting time and for spontaneous events or chance encounters or encounters by choice where public and private life are mostly indistinguishable. It should be a place where the old can sit and dream and pass on their wisdom and tell stories and gossip. Somewhere not intimidating for women and children, where people feel safe in the company of others because the surroundings are familiar, because you don’t get lost, because help is always at hand

and because you feel a sense of belonging. One man told of their village in the north, which had been raided by soldiers, resulting in his flight with his family across country to anonymity and the safety of the city. Their arrival at his brother’s place was a triumph after the suffering of years of uncertainty and their untimely departure from home. They longed for another place called home where they could recapture their past and dream other futures. There were many of his kind, he said, scattered around the city – an invisible community. They had lost their homes and friends but retained the ideal of community in their collective memories.