A Rich Tapestry of Communities

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The City of London is a location and an environment that to many looks to be as impersonal as they come - filled with imposing office blocks and impenetrable reception desks backed up by security.But behind this façade, as I discovered on my route to becoming an Alderman of the City of London in July 2018, there is a rich tapestry of communities.

But what is a community? I would contend that community is not defined as living in proximity to another because after all one can live next to a neighbour, especially in a city block of flats, and never have met them. Instead it is living lives that are connected to others by a focus point or shared activity that allows generous and outwards facing relationships to be built.

The City of London has a fascinating mix of the old and the new. The world's oldest continuous municipal democracy, with origins that pre-date Parliament, is the City of London Corporation. Twice a year at Common Hall this body brings together the ancient Livery Companies, which are communities that have their roots as trade groups, often with a patron saint and prayer fraternity at their heart. These organisations have evolved over the centuries and whilst some - Goldsmiths, for example - still have their historic trade at the heart of what they do today, many have evolved into charitable bodies that support good causes. Haberdashers, for example, educate some 12,000 students across the state and private sectors. The creation of community in these organisations is further aided because members will usually be members for life, which I recall being very significant for me when I joined the Haberdashers' Company because it put the relationships with other members on a very different basis knowing that I would be seeing them for the next 50 years - God willing! New Liveries and Guilds continue to be formed today: most recently the Guild of Investment Managers that is open to new members. 

But of course, the City has many shiny new office blocks with state of the art technology that allow it to compete as one of the world's leading financial and professional services centres, and this brings stresses and strains on relationships that could tend towards community. However, where an act of generosity is introduced, a collective spirit starts to build that can help develop community.September saw City Giving Day and as an Alderman I visited the banking group Investec which had arranged an impressive series of staff activities, including a wide range of fund raising initiatives and projects nearby.In seeing this in action, it was clear that community was being built in the office and locally through shared, generous outwards facing activity.

This reminded me that if we look back into the history of this country the provision of education and hospitals was provided by local communities, usually deriving from churches and religious communities, and many that exist today trace the roots back to this heritage. Indeed, a central tenet of our Judeo-Christian heritage as a nation is caring for those around you, which is also recognised in the Golden Rule of doing to others what you would have done to you. Of course, the parable of the Good Samaritan looms large in our minds when we think of this - one of the Lord Mayor's Appeal's designated charities is the Samaritans that ministers to those needing to talk, often due to feeling isolated and lacking community support.

One of the challenges that life in a big complex world provides is how and where to find and be community, because local groups can provide a sense of empowerment and belonging by contributing positively to their community. Indeed, some may argue that allocation of scarce resources can be done most effectively with community responsibility at the point of delivery, which begs the question whether the provision of state based services has been the cause of the cause local community erosion that seems to have been occurred in much of modern Britain. The unsustainable growth of public debt over the last decade suggests another, local community based way, may be required to address society's needs.

So, as I look out across the City I see many workplaces, ancient institutions and churches that are willing to help others, to serve, and in so doing bring a richness and security to our own lives and the lives of others. These are the characteristics of community. I am reminded of a former vicar at a church I used to attend saying people come to church for all sorts of reasons but stay because of friendships within the community. The world is not perfect, least of all the City of London, but there is hope when we come together in community - after all some may describe the Holy Trinity as a community

The above article was originally posted on the St Paul's Institute website on 5 Nov 2018