A celebration of community

Dhakar slums
Dhakar slums

I HOPE people had a chance to view Megacities with Andrew Marr on BBC 1 last week.

It’s a three-part documentary series – I think the next one is on tonight – which the BBC does very well.

It reviews the impact on society and on the human spirit of cities that comprise of populations of over 10 million people.

I found it very interesting. Andrew Marr obviously had to get a new passport, as he travelled the globe looking at some of the largest cities.

He spent the night in a Dhaka slum in Bangladesh and had to deal with rats the size of cats underneath his bed.

He went to Shanghai, in China, and saw the fastest development in human history as hundreds of millions of Chinese people move from rural areas to cities with the prospect of work and some notion of a better life.

However, the bit of the programme I found most affecting was the time that Andrew Marr spent in Tokyo.

The Japanese capital is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, with about 13 million people living in the central Tokyo area about the size of the old Cleveland County Council boundaries.

Despite, or perhaps because of the huge overcrowding, the overwhelming sense from the city was one of loneliness.

Residents of Tokyo hired a “friend” to spend time with because they didn’t know anybody in the city.

It does seem curious that, very often, the more that people are surrounded by other people, the lonelier they become.

The sense of community and the need for good neighbours are very strong in all of us.

Andrew Marr concluded that villages are probably the ideal size for humans to live together.

When I watched the programme I was struck by how Hartlepool is very much a collection of villages, with a strong sense of identity and community in each one.

People are fiercely proud of Hartlepool, quite rightly. But actually people also identify with their very local area, whether it is West View, the Headland, Owton Manor or living on the Fens.

That is why I really value Good Neighbours Day, which took place on Friday and was hosted at Belle Vue.

In previous years the event has taken place in Burbank and on the central estate.

This year, the sun shone, and Kendal Road was closed for all of the stalls and events that were taking place, and I think all the people, young and old, who came along had a great time.

I was also really pleased to cut the ribbon, along with Bob Farrow, who has lived and worked in the area for all his life, to celebrate the new houses that are being built by Housing Hartlepool.

I think everybody who had a look round the showhomes were really impressed with the quality of the finish. They make a really welcome addition.

We are very fortunate in Hartlepool that we have extremely strong communities who in the main watch out for one another.

The social and economic challenges that Hartlepool has faced would have been a lot worse had it not been for that sense of community that is a strong part of the Hartlepool character.

Other towns have lost that sense of neighbourhood and community. Once it is lost, it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to get it back, and at the extreme version, you see the sense of isolation and loneliness that was portrayed on Andrew Marr’s documentary.

We should celebrate and nurture that sense of community we have in Hartlepool, and Good Neighbours Day is an excellent way to do this.