Posted by: iangilbert | November 15, 2011

In praise of our community

Not being at the Chalkwell meeting where Councillor Roberston’s controversial comments were made, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he didn’t mean his remarks  to come out as they did. Nevertheless, the thrust of the comments as reported need a response.

My understanding is that Mr Barber was talking about his work with Turning Tides. I have to say that Turning Tides is one of the best initiatives I have had the priviledge of working with. They have helped innumerable people with all sorts of problems, regardless of people’s background, they have helped those who needed help. The neighbourhood management scheme made people living in some tough areas feel safer, more secure and more part of their community. They have tackled anti-social behaviour, cleared up streets, help put criminals behind bars, run a fantastic junior wardens program for kids, checked on the welfare of the elderly and hundreds of other things besides. It is perhaps a shame that their funding for neighbourhood management has come to an end, but they continue to do good work in the town with the ‘Triple Ts’ activities for children and the Active Citizens pilots.

Just one part of that work has been with the Zimbabwean Network in town. There are many reasons why we should welcome the creation of the network. Firstly, I know that a significant number of Zimbabweans arrived in Southend fleeing the brutality and persecution of Robert Mugabe. Basic human compassion should move us to offer them assistance. Some have been here a very long time and are British citizens, all have shared history with Britain through the Commonwealth. More importantly and more relevantly now, anyone who meets members of the Zimbabwean Network will know that these are people who really want to make a positive contribution to the town. The group has had a small amount of help to get them off the ground. Anyone who believes that they are somehow a drain on resources or are stopping help getting to other groups in society is very much mistaken.

When we talk about Britishness and patriotism, what do we mean? A patriotism based on confidence, belonging, a sense of community, that we’re comfortable in the world as it is? Or a narrow and bitter nationalism forever based on division, as sense of grievance and fear of the other? The community groups mentioned have done much that will engender that better form of patriotism and deserve to be praised, not condemned.

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