One of the great things about libraries is that these are spaces you can be in where you don’t have to pay. Warm, dry spaces with seats and things to do, where you can be for hours, no questions asked.
In the warmer weather, there are parks and green spaces – for some of us, at least. There are benches in the high street. However, for the greater part, your scope for community participation, social spaces, activities, entertainment and leisure all depend on your ability to pay to access the space in the first place. It means poverty increases social exclusion and with the cost of living rising, ever more people will be priced out of opportunities to meet people and to socialise.
There are people who are perfectly happy being alone. However, most humans are social creatures and suffer intensely from loneliness without enough human contact. Passing people in the streets and seeing them in shops is not an answer to social needs. It’s better when we can do things together, form bonds, share things and feel like we’re part of something.
Stroud has a great initiative on at the moment and I wanted to flag it up as an example of a good project. We have a market area in town, but for much of the time it isn’t used. It’s a mix of open space and partially sheltered space – well ventilated but ok on a wet day. This summer, the council are opening it for a lunchtime each week and inviting community music groups to perform in the space, and putting out chairs for anyone who wants to come along. Bring lunch. Bring children. Bring the dog. It’s all good. It’s free, and friendly and pretty safe.
These are the kinds of spaces we need. Spaces that invite participation, that create interest and that don’t cost participants anything.