A couple of weeks ago I was left pondering the difference between a ‘neighbourhood’ and a ‘community’. It was a question posed during a meeting organised by the local Joint Health and Wellbeing Board (more of which a little later). My immediate response was to say that the term ‘neighbourhood’ invokes the geography of the area, whereas a ‘community’ reflects the people living within a neighbourhood. However, I was left feeling that my response was lacking and shallow, and the question has since been returning to me in the quiet hours of the night.
My discombobulation (such a wonderful word that simply rolls around the mouth) was partially assuaged by recourse to a dictionary. According to the latter, a neighbourhood is ‘a district within a town or city’; whereas a community is ‘a group of people living in one place’. So, I thought, a neighbourhood must contain a least one community (unless deserted), whilst a community could exist either within a neighbourhood, or be a distinct entity living on its own (for example, a small village or hamlet, or a remote tribe, etc.).
But for all the official gravitas of the aforementioned trusted lexicon, there was still some essence missing in that soulless definition of ‘community’. Where, for example, was the spirit of the place? Where was the sense of belonging that bonds people together in something more than the simple fact that they live in the same street or apartment block? Where was that sense of common attitudes and interests?
Ultimately, communities are about living people; people who breath and think; who interact with each other; who may work and play together, who love and fall out with each other, who may worship together; who care for each other in times of crisis, and who also care about the place where they live. That is what the term ‘community’ is really all about for me. A community is not just some sterile, amorphous entity.
So, I can hear you ask, what does the above have to do with Health and Wellbeing Boards, and what are they in the first place? The simplest answer is to quote the Department of Health. Established by the Health and Social Care Act 2012, Health and Wellbeing Boards act as ‘a forum where key leaders from the health and care system work together to improve the health and wellbeing of their local population and reduce health inequalities’. So they consist of people such as public health personnel, social workers, nurses and doctors, who are essentially charged with making life better for local communities.
The problem is we only have a partial idea as to what would make life better, because all communities are different. Ultimately, it is the people living within these communities who can really tell us what would make life better. So please tell us. Tell your local councillor, tell your social worker, tell your GP, write to the council and to this newspaper. Tell us what would really do it for you and your community. We cannot help you win the lottery, but often it is attention to the small matters that makes a big difference to our lives.
(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday, 21st February 2013)