How to be a local person

I like to think that where I live is a village, but it isn’t really. It almost is; it used to be; but it isn’t anymore. I’m not quite sure what I’d call it now.

The problem is that it doesn’t really know what it is, either.

You see, we have a problem with immigration. You wouldn’t think so to look at us – in the shop, at the school gates, in the doctor’s surgery, the faces look the same and the voices are all pretty similar. Nonetheless, a richness of brownfield sites has been transformed over the past decade and a half into those kind of estates of detached houses which people like to sneer at, but which are just what lots of young families want.

So they (we) came, and they (we) multiplied. The result? A comfortable, prosperous, pleasant place to live – with an identity crisis. Those who were here before the new housing are left, baffled and rather resentful, turned inwards to each other. The newcomers, attracted originally to the prospect of life in a village, get involved in community activities, but that in turn sometimes leads to ill-will and silent feuding where toes are inadvertently stepped on.

Pressure on an over-subscribed school only adds to the problems: people whose children can’t get into the same primary which they themselves attended are (understandably, if unreasonably) unlikely to look kindly on those taking “their” places.

How do you belong to somewhere that wishes you weren’t there? Or, perhaps, how do you belong to somewhere which isn’t sure what it is? Travelling and living in Spain, I was always struck by the strong sense of local identity. A village would celebrate its own saint’s day in its own manner with traditions children inherited as their birthright; a fantastic spectacle to an onlooker, but one which depends by its nature on continuity and exclusivity.

Of course, places do change, and what we see as static and age-old would probably look very different to a visitor from a century ago. My village/suburb/whatever will doubtless take on a new identity over time, but no-one wins if we pretend that nothing was lost in the process.


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