I recently came back from visiting the United Kingdom for seven weeks. Given New Zealand’s colonial history and the distant family ties I have with the ‘mother’ country, it was an interesting experience to see first-hand the place where my father’s family lived before choosing to board ship in the late 1800s and sail away to this amazing country at the bottom of the world. Not that they probably fully realised what they were getting themselves into in making that epic voyage but I feel they most likely thought they would have more opportunities to improve their lives and perhaps own a piece of land for themselves. Something I imagine would have been a difficult task at the time for your average farm labourers.
Certainly I made a point to visit the village in Wiltshire where they hailed from. A sleepy little town called Hilmarton which currently has a population of 450, a church, a school, a pub and loads of grade 2 listed houses. Not to mention plenty of thatch roof cottages which I absolutely adored.
It struck me as I wandered down the handful of roads which splayed out from the churchyard that these types of villages were hubs within the community. A place to trade goods, catch up on news and gossip, be educated, get your weekly dose of religion and connect with friends and family.
Whilst the corner shop is no longer open, converted as it is into a home now, it would have been the place to get all of your supplies for the week or weeks depending if you lived remotely on a farm. Certainly like the Church it would have been a place to see or be seen, and wandering about I could almost see my ancestors going about their daily business within the village. I kept thinking to myself that there must have been some pretty strong motivation to leave everything you know and move down under!
It also got me thinking that when you look at our modern lives now, it seems to me that through technology our villages or hubs are no longer real places. People don’t meet at the local shops or church anymore to catch-up on the latest news or gossip. Our interactions with other people stem not from actual face-to-face meetings but via social media or messenger apps on our smart devices or mobile phones. It makes me feel a sense of loss that we don’t seem to engage physically as much with the people we know and that the little family-owned businesses that once graced our villages have all but gone to make way for large corporate chain stores.
It seems such a shame that whilst we have so many more ways to connect with others we are not connecting in person the way that we used too. I really hope that as a result we don’t lose the ability to build relationships in the real world on a one-to-one basis. Perhaps it’s time to put aside the social media and devices at least once a week and make a point of visiting a friend or neighbour in person. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there, lonely or otherwise, who would benefit greatly from us spending a little bit of our physical time with them.
It seems a small thing to do with an ultimately rewarding outcome for everyone. We need to remember the sleepy villages we all came from and embrace real community again.