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Last week I wrote about the loss of community. This week I want to highlight the cost of this loss for us all. The cost of all the freedom and mobility that we enjoy today is the loss of two of the most important things in human life: love and trust. With the increase of mobility there has been a parallel increase in the incidence of loneliness, amongst both young and old. The young are lonely because they have moved away from home and are living in a place where they are not known, except perhaps by a group of friends who themselves are transient. The old are lonely because they have lived for a long time in the same place, but the people who lived around them have moved away and strangers have moved in. A survey of 1500 adults recently revealed that a quarter had no-one to whom they could talk about important matters in their lives, and another quarter had only one such friend. You can only truly love and be loved by people you know well, generally people you have known for a long time, through many phases of your life.

The reverse of people within the community moving out, is, as we have just seen, people from outside moving in. The more this happens the more the sense of community is lost. In country villages there may be cottages and houses in which local people used to live, now bought up by rich second-homers from the city or Airbnb landlords, who contribute little or nothing to the community.

In an urban area, it may be an influx of immigrants moving in, people from another country, speaking another language, with customs and tastes different from those of the locals. If the older inhabitants complain about these 'foreigners' they invite accusations of xenophobia or racism. Inevitably the new inhabitants will tend to form their own communities in these areas, even creating ghettoes in which the former inhabitants feel as if they were living in a foreign land. The desire to form their own communities is understandable from the point of view of the immigrants, but the resentment of the members of the older communities must be understandable also.

This is where the issue of trust is most acute. Today we are all living close to people from other countries, people of other races, people speaking other languages, people whose background and values, whose ways we do not know and do not understand. All the elements of community are missing between us. It is not surprising if one of the marks of this new way of life is mistrust.

In the world in which I grew up we children went off for the morning with a group of friends in the street, to play in the woods or down by the brook, without any thought of danger either in our minds or in those of our parents. From the age of four, I walked to Infants School on my own, unaccompanied by my mother, and from the age of eight, I travelled to Junior School by London Transport bus and Underground, also on my own. The default position, even in an urban area, was that we trusted our neighbours and our fellow townspeople. In the same way we rarely padlocked our bikes or even locked our doors, except at night. In the local community, even in the wider community, even in the national community, we lived amongst people that we instinctively trusted. Not now. We have lost that trust and sense of community.

The loss of trust goes further than the streets and the neighbourhood. Most of our transactions used to take place with people we knew and trusted, people we had dealt with over many years: the bank-manager, the plumber, the doctor, the green-grocer. Today, there is no bank-manager, and any financial transactions beyond the simplest mean dealing with complicated paper-work or the internet. Plumbers must be found on the internet too. The doctor is one of a team at the local surgery, and will probably refer you to some vast, impersonal hospital for any treatment you require. And there is no such thing as a grocer anymore: just shelves in the supermarket. We used to deal with people; today we deal with forms or screens or voices on the telephone. Life used to be made up of personal relationships, now it is too often made up of tapping away on a key-board or a phone.

So, what can we do about it? More next week.

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