Continuing on from my post a while back about getting to know your neighbours, I wanted to get out some of my other thoughts on the importance of investing in your community and especially how OWNING your community can make a difference. I've been a bit of a nomad in life. Northern Ireland for 17 years, Canada for 8, London for 4. I've lived in countless houses, flats and dorms with people from all over the world. It's been transformational, eye-opening and challenging. When people ask me 'where is home?' I struggle to pick a place. Obviously my true sense of home is wherever Dave and Levi are now, but so many of my formative years were spent in other places. So many of my shaping young-adult years were spent from pillar to post - bunking with people who were doing amazing things, showing me hospitality, welcoming me into their families and offering me lots of wisdom to chew on. I think the longest time I've lived in one place was from when I was born until I was 8. You can see how easily I might have developed a sense of free-spiritedness, and although that is a strong and valuable part of my make-up, it has also had me often pining for ownership somewhere.
This was my first ever leaving party...heading off to Canada at the age of 8. N'aawwwww.
And another time we left Northern Ireland to move to Canada...apparently cutting a cake is a right of passage when you emigrate for the second time. NOTE TO SELF: Always have a fringe.
Anyway, almost 3 years ago after Dave and I returned to Northern Ireland from a magical, whimsical year of living it up in London. I knew in my heart that we would be putting our roots down for a while. We wanted to start this new adventure of parenthood with family supporting us close by (boy am I glad we did). I think this feeling of being settled had always unsettled me but the imminence of becoming a mother gave me peace and I knew that I needed to start to invest more in the place that I lived. I understood from all my super important gap year days that living locally had a massive impact on the global but what did it even mean to start walking that talk? I'd spent so much of my life knowing I'd probably be moving on again soon that I often resisted getting too involved, too connected. The last few years has been a real lesson in staying put and putting in.
So with that as a backdrop, I am navigating what it means to belong somewhere. It has taken a real shift in thinking and doing and has meant deciding to be a bit more thoughtful about so many of our every day family choices.
The other night my neighbour came round and spent over 3 hours showing me how to crochet. She has 5 kids, so thankfully she has some sort of deep well of patience built in. As she corrected my trebles (that's a crochet term that I'm now privvy to you know), she told me about how she's been busy making blankets for Portadown Cares to give out in their Christmas hampers. In the beginning of JUNE, this lady is thinking about how she can care for her community at CHRISTMAS. Now THAT'S community ownership.
It means choosing to use your local hairdressers, butchers, coffee shop etc instead of giving your money to bigger, and sometimes fancier companies in bigger towns. It means championing the good things already happening where you are; sticking up for your towns reputation; seeing potential in it and making sure we're all doing our bit to look after each other. I feel like it's been even these small decisions that really make me feel more at home where I live. Again, when you invest - you connect. And when you connect you make a difference.
Owning my community has also meant that I am protective of it and the people I share it with. For me, that level of ownership has taken me into the realm of community activism on issues of human trafficking and exploitation. My friend and I had an inkling that there were people being exploited in our area so we spent some of our spare time meeting with all the local organisations and groups that work with vulnerable people. We listened to these people; the people that have been investing in these issues longer than had in order to build a picture of what was already available and what was needed in our community to protect people. And we continue to listen - every month we sit around a table with the Craigavon Human Trafficking Steering Group to listen to these people and learn from them. All that listening gave us the guts to start Craigavon ACT Group (our voluntary activist group) 3 years ago, and even helped birth Freedom Acts (my job) this time last year.
We don't know ANYTHING until we listen.
I don't pretend to be perfect at this, but I've seen how worthwhile it can be when we connect and invest in where we live. So I urge you to look around and see something great about your own patch, find something or someone in your community to look after, give your local shops some love and start to talk-up and own where you live.
And in all this be assured that I know that it's hard to connect sometimes but I know even more that it can be life-changing when you do.