This is a guest blog post from James Davenport at Same Page Arts.
I have just returned from a two month break travelling through Indonesia and South East Asia. This trip wasn’t just a ‘holiday’, for those who have been travelling will know, it’s often a stressful experience, but, what an incredible experience it was.
Before I set off, I decided I would attempt to document the many different communities I would come across and highlight any instances of community spirit. As my earlier blog (published on samepagearts.wordpress.com in January 2014), The Failing Spirit of Britain, testifies, I’m curious to investigate the makeup of community. Especially the seemingly absent form of it in the North East.
Community spirit and the social characteristics which effect it, have always interested me. In my work so far I have felt the strongest sense of community spirt is formed by people who are facing the most challenging obstacles, such as homelessness and the everyday pressures felt by living with a disability. I have witnessed a far greater sense of community support and spirit whilst facilitating workshops with clients living in homeless hostels or clients based at disabled day centres than I, personally have felt myself. These people who are often marginalised by society and often their own community have established their own separate pockets of community, where community spirit is thriving.
Travelling through some of South East Asia’s poorest countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam I was avid to explore this theory that those facing the most challenging issues form the strongest sense of community spirt.
So what did I find? What surprised me the most was that I didn’t have to search for community spirit. I’m not sure whether I preconceived that I would be creeping around in backstreets and in villages like some neighbourhood loving Sherlock looking for instances of community spirit. Fortunately, for everyone, evidence of community spirt was everywhere.
What a staggeringly different world exists several thousands miles away from us. A vibrant world where people work, live drink and socialise together. Help each other, love each other and know each other. I’m not trying to sound new age or hippie about this, but throughout Cambodia, Vietnam and Lombok, local people, eat, drink and socialise together. Whole streets are transformed into eating stalls where locals, couples and families eat laugh and talk together.
Do we have anything similar in the UK? I thought Street parties? Yet when was the last time you attended a street party? If ever. I know I haven’t. And these themselves are planned events, occasionally invitation only. Everywhere you look and visit in South East Asia food stalls and eateries litter the pavements. How often have you shared your meal with other meal goers, freely chatting?
Regardless of the social, cultural or political reasoning behind why many Asians eat this way, they are conversing with their fellow countrymen and women. I try not sensationalise this, but this simple primitive act of talking to people is an act we seem to have abandoned in the UK. Is this a reason behind our failing spirit? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not suggesting that this is the answer and that we should all transform out streets into alfresco dining areas. But wouldn’t it strengthen our relationships with out neighbours? Wouldn’t it improve our knowledge on what us happening locally, who the local people we live near are and what they do and what they think? Wouldn’t it strengthen our communities?
James Davenport founded Same Page Arts in 2013, after graduating from Northumbria University. Same Page Arts works to identify, explore and challenge issues of social exclusion, through artistic expression. Participants range from homeless people, to people suffering with a variety of disabilities. The organisation has worked with a range of clients in the North East, including Changing Lives (The Cyrenians) and Skills For People. Follow @samepagearts on Twitter and like on Facebook. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for further info.
Article originally published on the Same Page Arts blog, July 2014.