How Many Makes a Viable Community?

THis is a big subject, and I’m realising the foolishness of trying to write a blog post about it, but here’s my initial thoughts anyway.
I and my partner have just returned from a stay at Monkton Wyld in Dorset, a sustainable community. I was really interested in the discussions about community we had while we were staying there, and it gave us much food for thought during the journey home. I particularly wondered what happens to people when they’re ill, or whether people with long term conditions such as ME (chronic fatigue – a few of my friends are afflicted by it) could ever have a place in such a community. At Monkton Wyld there are currently only about 12 resident members, plus short-term volunteers. It would have to be much bigger to accommodate the weak or less physically able, and also to provide outlets for the more specialised forms of human activity, like some skilled crafts such as musical instrument making for instance.
There was an interesting series of programmes on R4 about the history of friendships; apparently the maximum number of meaningful connections a person can have on average is about 100 (it might have been 150, can’t quite remember). Apparently until the industrial revolution that was the average size of the English village. Within a community of this size, certain occupations would be widely called for, others less so. One would need lots of people involved in food production, fewer involved in more skilled tasks (perhaps fruit tree training, or certain sorts of plant propagation) and very few – the musical instrument makers, scientists, thinkers etc. In fact, thinking historically, there have always been some rarefied or highly specialised areas of human activity which have needed a larger population base to make them viable. Musical instrument makers have always been based in larger communities, for example, or been itinerant, perhaps, if their trade allowed – the same principle applies. In modern communities, we need scientists and thinkers, and surely one of the benefits of a larger community is that some people can be freed up to do these less every day tasks, but ones which are have long term benefit.
An impromptu musical evening was initiated by one of the volunteers at Monkton Wyld; she had a considerable talent on the the piano and I contributed a song, teaching the chorus to the others. We had a motley collection of instruments and created an enjoyable evening, but I was left wondering where someone like myself would fit in to a community of that sort. I can garden and could probably learn to cook, but I’m not up to lots of heavy work and my particular skills lie outside the every day and the practical. I felt though that the forming of social ties was greatly enhanced by the evening, and that perhaps this is the true significance of music.

One thought on “How Many Makes a Viable Community?

  1. What society and even more importantly small communities need is to find what people are capable of contributing, once shelter, food, heat are covered one of the most important parts of life is the arts as it is what brings communities together and gives it “life”.

    Working in groups is a great way to even out physical or mental limits (what ever they may be! – and we all have them…) as just a little help here and there either physically like moving a log or mentally with an idea/direction/caution can help everyone out and makes working much easier.

    The problem is that modern life regulates (5-9 Monday to Friday) and isolates (individual job specs – interestingly also at MW from their job adverts??). I have come to the conclusion that “people” should be employed rather than “people put into positions”. What this means is that when someone is employed they are not just expected to fit into a job and do every part equally well, instead there strengths and interests (this second part being the most important) are identified and and brought into a wider team, with them helping others and others filling in the gaps they struggle with.

    What was great about MW was that everyone had time for you and was very friendly and also that within a community there is room for everyone’s opinions and no one is more important than another (other than by earnt respect) unlike a company (or charity) where only a very few (management/directors/councillors/trustee’s – who are often less expert than the people they manage over) decide what everyone else does. In this modern case respect is not earnt and ideas/people are fleeting – things are done to make an impact – something for the CV – this is not a crime in itself… until the original motive is lost.

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