I’ve never really thought about the word community outside of it meaning the place where I live and have made my home. We often talk about organising within the community in a political context, but here the word is usually used by politicians to refer to people they actually have no desire to speak to beyond capitalising on a photo opportunity for their next election leaflet.
Stories of the communities my parents and grandparents grew up in have been passed down to me; every road on my mum and dad’s estate having a football team that would play each other every Sunday, my nana making lunch for all the builders she knew by name when they were working by hers because they all knew she made a boss butty.
Since Thatcher declared that there was no such thing as a society, individualisation has been seeping into every aspect of our lives – you are your own responsibility and if you’re not aspiring to make yourself better, you’re of no worth. But how can people be aspirational when they’re barely surviving?
As austerity grinds away at everything we held central to those communities; bus routes being cut, pubs being closed down to make way for luxury housing, youth clubs and post offices shutting – stories of the community fade and become depressing. Instead of meeting to socialise, neighbours meet to help each other with their benefit forms or to lend each other food they can’t otherwise afford.
The Salford Docker explored different types of community being dismantled. An entire industry, docking, which tens of thousands of workers built their life around, broken up due to mechanisation. Unimaginable now for many who sit at desks all day and are encouraged by management not to talk to their colleagues. Slum housing was demolished and its residents moved out and away into high-rise flats with no neighbours.
But while exploring these issues, of which parents and grandparents of the cast had lived through, we built our own community. We had the basic foundations of a socialist society instilled in us throughout the process of making the play. We were empathetic, supportive, responsible for one another. We lived through solidarity and collective struggle. We used the historic lessons of the play to make and develop our own community, and we’ll continue to use those lessons to build communities elsewhere.
It’s difficult to convey the feeling of trust, of solidarity, of collective responsibility we’ve nurtured between the cast of 25 local non-actors, while learning about our own histories in the process. But surely that’s just what a community is.
It’s easy to wallow in the desolation of the communities our working classes have built up over decades, it’s harder to use the lessons we learn from that to keep building and to keep fighting the isolation and individualisation we’re suffocated with daily. It’s hard but we have to keep going.
Emma Stevensons’ Altered Lands 21-08-2019
Things That I Know, Things That You Know 18-06-2020
An interview with Mon Levchenkova 15-12-2019
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