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Reflections #11

Reflections #11
Photo by Joshua Sun / Unsplash
Changing communities amidst a changing world

There is one thing I have to confront every time I leave my house, it is something I cannot avoid or ignore no matter how hard I try. It is always there, figuratively staring me down in imposing fashion, and that thing is how much my local community has changed. I am referring to the street I live on (and the adjacent streets as well) and the community contained within, as opposed to my high street or anywhere further afield.

My community has changed tremendously over the years and generally not for the better. I am sure that many of you can relate. It has become a microcosm of the changes we see across the country. In fact, I don’t even think of it as my community as such or even a community.

The reality facing many suburbs across the country is that because of the high demand for social housing, whenever a property becomes available quite often the local counsil steps in and buys it up and a family from the social housing list moves in. As a result, many suburbs are gradually becoming counsil estates. Such people used to reside in high-rise tower blocks within the confines of an actual council estate but now they are increasingly migrating to the suburbs in large numbers and the difference is palpable, it is impossible to ignore. In my area, even semi-luxury apartments have been used for social housing.

The point is there has always been an implicit social contract that came with owning your own house in the United Kingdom. Those around you were broadly similar people with families, careers and a stake in the local area and the local community. Now that contract has been severed, it is broken and it has been replaced with something entirely different altogether. Ultimately, Britain’s social housing menace is going to lead to big problems in the future, particularly if the culture of drugs and crime migrates into the suburbs along with the people who, let’s be honest, have traditionally perpetuated this culture.

Returning to my local area, as a result of these changes strangers abound everywhere. Whilst one does not wish to be too judgemental, they are often highly unkept, suspicious looking and they are almost never speaking English. I have taken to calling this type of person the ‘everywhere man’. This is also a reflection of the ongoing demographic change that is taking place up and down the country: with immigration from every corner of the world, local communities are invariably going to change to reflect that reality.

The Airbnb-anisation of the suburbs is a big part of the problem as well. Short-term rentals are changing the face of local areas across the country. Landlords are making more money from short-term stays than actual leasing, meanwhile families are renting out spare rooms to, in many cases, complete strangers in order to cope with the ongoing cost of living crisis, making a mockery of the old adage “an Englishman’s home is his castle”. If I were to guess, I think a lot of this is intra-communal along broadly ethnic lines; in order to circumvent the big, American platform sites they advertise informally within their community, so you’ll have a Romanian one, an Albanian one, a Bengali one etc.

Another new addition to the suburbs is the presence of Deliveroo and Uber Eats drivers, who can be seen delivering food at all hours of the day. Similarly, postal deliveries now take place throughout the day: from early in the morning to late at night delivery companies such as DPD, Hermes, supermarket delivery vans as well as Amazon and numerous others careen down the road at full speed, seemingly oblivious of their surroundings. Some of these companies require their drivers to take pictures of the people holding the package they are delivering, something that I find incredibly egregious even if l understand why they have to do it. I was once woken up at 7am by a DPD driver, aptly called Mohammed, delivering a package and taking a picture of me whilst I stood at the door still half asleep, “thanks, globalisation” I thought to myself, “thanks a lot”.

As time goes on, my local area has gradually become dirtier and more unpleasant with litter becoming more and more visible. As a result, rats are more common and rat bait boxes are practically everywhere now.

Increasingly, properties are falling into disrepair and are suffering from neglect. I can walk up my street and see supermarket trolleys, discarded furniture, abandoned vehicles and much more: if this isn’t a sign of late-stage decline then I don’t know what is! People who worked hard to buy their homes work just as hard to maintain them but that is no longer the case now as the dynamics of social housing are just different. Gardening and landscaping are increasingly becoming a thing of the past as well. CCTV is becoming increasingly more common. More homes have it than do not and many properties have multiple cameras attached to them. You can conceivably be watched by several cameras at once yet, despite this, burglaries and break-ins are on the increase.

Children playing outside, couples and pensioners taking their dog for a walk and middle-aged men doing some gardening with Dire Straits or Genesis on in the background have now been replaced by Deliveroo and DPD drivers, rat bait boxes, abandoned vehicles, Arabic music blaring out and the now ubiquitous smell of weed. As if all this wasn’t enough, off course our council tax keeps going up to pay for all this wonderful enrichment. British communities used to be calm, simple and peaceful, they were our escape from the chaos of permissive, big cities; now they have simply become an extension of them.

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