Longing for Community

April 7, 2011

For my twenty first birthday, my sister got me a ‘personal horoscope’. In this it told me that life gets better with age, especially after thirty. When at the age of twenty eight I broke my back, I thought to myself, “How the hell can it get better now!”. I’m glad to say it did and has continued to get better ever since.

My twenties were a struggle. I was bitter with a world where we hurtle around in steel boxes trashing peoples’ lives. Disillusioned with a society that leads us to partake in mindless jobs, disconnected from who we are or any way in which we can work together. We have all become so individual that it can be a struggle to find community. I longed for a way of life that had meaning, and purpose, and could make me a part of something more than me.

As the Levellers said, “There’s only one way of life and that’s your own”. Although we may struggle to find community, the rise of the individual in us has freed us from the limitations placed upon us by the communities of old that were bound together in material ways. Many were born into a working way and followed in their father’s footsteps. Rarely does this happen today and we are all free to make our own choices. However, freedom comes at a cost. To be solely in charge of our decisions is demanding. No longer are we led by the way of the community and it’s as though we all have to be pioneers, which can be hard at times, especially when you have such high ideals as me.

After breaking my back, I moved to Brockham. A lovely little bungalow annexed to my landlord and lady’s. A Beautiful couple who had a large garden with geese, chickens and a veg patch; right up my street. The village had two local pubs, social club, shop and a friendly community, some of whom I knew and many more that have become my friends. When I needed help, people were there for me. Friends rallied round and I found a compassionate side of life. I very much enjoyed my time as a resident in that community, but there was something missing and what I truly longed for wasn’t to be found there. Such villages work well because of their affluence. The people who live there are hard working, and have to be, to be able to afford to live there. Most people get in their cars in the morning and drive off in different directions, pursuing their own paths in order to fund their lives and the community they so enjoy. Community has become something that we work for all week and act out at weekends. To really fit in you have to join in on this way, but I was someone who had just come out of hospital and the prospect of employment was daunting, leaving me to rattle around an empty village waiting for the ‘after work’ crowd to be in the pub.

I also broke my collar bone in the accident that left me paraplegic and despite the fact that the two halves were so overlapped that the bone only re-connected fibrously, my consultant in hospital refused to address the problem. The perverse mentality that says, ‘because I’m paraplegic there’s no need to sort out my collar bone’ prevailed until I finally persuaded a surgeon to mend it, two and a half years after injury. I had the good fortune to stay at Heatherley Cheshire Home while recuperating from the operation, which was successful, and found it to be a residential care home that had evolved as an extended family. I fell in love with the place. This had a lot to do with the land and outbuildings, not to mention the dilapidated old Lodge which is now my wonderful cottage, but it had more to do with finding a sense of belonging, a place where I could put my skills to good use for the benefit of the community, to regain purpose and worth in my life.

Heatherley was established as a care home in 1960 by Pamella Farrel and set up under the wing of Leonard Cheshire. The spirit of the movement ensured the opportunity for everyone to play their part in making the home work as a whole, leading to the community being known as ‘the family’. Unfortunately that perverse mentality, that seems to go hand in hand with our society’s way of governance, reared its ugly head again and powers that be, in the professional management that had taken over control of the home, insisted that people be labelled as ‘residents’ and ‘the family’ became taboo. Recently it has got worse still and those receiving care must be referred to as ‘service users’, while those of us looking after ourselves in bungalows must be ‘tenants’. However, you can’t destroy spirit that easily and deep down the family still prevails and as long as I live here that spirit will never die.


  1. I loved your post, Steve. Community is the centerpiece of the healing process and probably also the most elusive. I am glad that you have found such a place and I am sure it will maintain it’s spirit despite the best efforts of mindless bureaucrats. It’s a rare commodity in the world of disability.

  2. […] texto es una traducción de la entrada disponible en https://spinalroots.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/longing-for-community/, publicada por primera vez el 7 de abril de […]

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