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Wet feet, cold baths and lukewarm soup - resilience in Lancaster?

There’s something about resilience that makes me think of cold baths, wet feet and the distant prospect of lukewarm vegetable soup.  And the word, defined first in the dictionary as "the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation," only adds to the depression.

But waking up beside me today is my partner; after four days in coronary care with his heart racing at twice its normal speed, he’s home.  After four days in coronary care the drugs had taken the heart rate down but yesterday morning he was a grey, shambling wreck – shocking to see the change.  Eight hours later after a good long sleep in his own bed and some proper food he was chairing a cycling club meeting, being ribbed as a “drama queen”.  Ye gods! Resilience,

or more commonly an ability to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness change,

is a pretty nifty thing – even when, in this case, it needs some skilled NHS diagnosis to set it on its way and a packet of strong pills to make sure it is maintained.

So what of resilience in Lancaster? How can we define what to look for and then how to measure what we find?  In many ways I think the resilience of a town mirrors that of a small state; the Commonwealth small states have done a good deal of work on how they can achieve economic resilience and some of their findings make interesting comments on our situation.  Basically, if you are a small place the volatility of outside influences has a disproportionate effect; if your economy is based on a few major resources or services, a change in the outside world can produce a major upset.  States vary hugely in how they cope with this vulnerability and that variation seems to be rooted firstly in whether the state has good governance and appropriate policies in place and secondly on having a high measure of social cohesion.

Green Party candidate on doorstep with residentAre we growing in our ability to face difficulties and deformations that are not only round the corner but in economic terms, clearly with us already? How do we measure our social cohesion – people’s attitudes to unemployment, rising prices and loss of income?  My experience of knocking on doors for the Green Party in advance of the county elections is fascinating.  On the private estates on the edge of Lancaster residents are mainly concerned about schools, bus services, how far they are from the nearest shop and the rush to build another 600 houses on their doorstep.  In the social housing, less than a mile away, residents on benefits are facing having to move out to non-existent one-bedroomed houses or pay £80 a month extra because of the “extra room” tax and long-term disabled people are being ATOS assessed as fit to work when there is no work to do.  Some are shocked, tearful, confused.  One woman who I know to be an active, generous, community –minded person told me,

“People are getting angry. I’ve never seen them like this in 30 years here.  They are talking about doing violent things.”

She is an effective, moderating influence on the local community – well-respected.  But she will be forced to move because her family have grown up, she is disabled and she has a spare bedroom. What price economic efficiency and bringing down the deficit?

What has this to do with Transition City Lancaster – or any initiative? Well, if good governance is key to resilience then getting involved in both local and national politics is something we have to consider, even if we do no more than knock on doors and deliver leaflets for those whose policies will do most to reduce our vulnerability.  And we need to think really hard about the contribution we are making to getting and keeping our community together – is that a priority?  If you were elderly, disabled, unemployed, caring or in care would you be designed into our events and projects? As a member of our Education Group I would say, yes a bit.  Writing this blog has made me realise we need to be better at it.

nineteenth century stone built city pub One Transition City Lancaster project comes to mind as a model for a successful inclusive venture.  Clare runs a monthly Reskilling workshop.  It is free and it takes place in a pub upstairs room on the south side of Lancaster.  It is across the town from our usual venue and nowhere near the usual “green” hangouts.  The housing around is rental, student, cheapest available to buy.  The subjects covered are huge mix, from alternative therapies to seed sprouting, chicken-keeping to making jewellery from drinks cans.  People find out about it from Facebook or word of mouth and a range of different people come along – not just the usual faces. It is informal, fun, full of chat and laughter.   At the chicken-keeping one I gave there were people from the allotments associations, from Occupy, from TCL, from “up the road” and from social housing on the other side of town, ages ranging from twenties to one man in his seventies. It is successfully inclusive and it draws together people from wide backgrounds – a contribution to social cohesion. Oh and it doesn’t mention Transition, perhaps because the word can have some pretty heavy connotations and that’s not Clare’s way.

Did you know that the word resilience is derived from the same root as “sally” meaning

  •  a brief outbreak
  • a witty or imaginative saying  
  •  a venture or excursion usually off the beaten track

As we try to reach more people, from wider backgrounds, in different ways, maybe it would help to remember Clare’s workshops and to “sally out” pretty cheerfully, however grim the circumstances are shaping up to be.

On the Transition Network site it says, vis a vis resilience:

Transition Initiatives, community by community, are actively and cooperatively creating happier, fairer and stronger communities, places that work for the people living in them …

Here in Lancaster, and everywhere else, I’m sure, that’s a tough call but one we have to respond to now, more than ever.

Pictures: Royal Lancaster Infirmary(drfosterhealth), Greens door knocking (iChelmsford Green Party!), Newton estate (Rightmove), Park pub Lancaster(Virtual Lancaster)

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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