It is difficult to find much of a sense of local community within a two miles radius of central London. However if you head to the outer suburbs, where coupled & childrened Londoners trade in their inner city flat for space, gardens and a good education, you can see communities forming around nurseries and schools. The suburbs make for a greater sense of community, partly because people out in the sticks tend to have made a commitment to the area, which makes investment in the neighbours, who have also committed, an investment with a good rate of return.
Furthermore, having a common interest as a parent but also as someone who wants their children embedded into a nexus of positive relationships, means even the most unsociable can find themselves propelled into relationships by a greater force.
For many Londoners, having children will be the only time they experience local community life. One garrulous lady, in her early sixties, walking a dog in Barking spots a man walking his child, and initiates conversation. The man explains that being a father has allowed him to develop a sense of community through meeting parents at the various playgroups and story-time sessions, and having a mutual interest. The woman is appreciative, and can empathise, having seen her own children grow up in the area. However she quickly sighs, “See you loose all that once you’re children grow up”. She looks wistfully at her dog.
Recognising people walking down the street, saying hello to people as you pass by can make you feel more homely, more safe, its great. However I have started to notice that it can also lead to some awkward moments, when in moments when you’d prefer to be left alone, you unexpectedly bump into someone at the park, at which point you feel the need to affect a certain level of well-being that just isn’t yours to give that day. The key to suburban London living is well described by one commentator: “When we lived in London, everyone smiled and said hello in our area, because it wasn’t one of those places where people moved in and out every few weeks. Mind you, I don’t like to get to know my neighbours too well, because I don’t want to get embroiled in their lives, but keeping it light and chatty is really nice.”