The Decline of Our Community Clubs

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Why, when so many people want to be a part of a community, are places that facilitate community connection dying out?

Whilst we truly believe in the trend saying that people are intent on being a part of a wider community, there is a parallel trend showing that community clubs and organisations are far less popular than they once were.

“People want to engage locally,” our founding director Allan Tranter says, “they want to contribute, they really want to feel a sense of purpose in life, and are looking to associate with civic-minded organisations.”

“We are convinced that this is the case, and we see it whenever we are out interacting with communities, people are nodding their heads and saying ‘yes, this is what I want!’”

But in our changing world, there seems to be fewer and fewer places where making connections is easy for people.

In an Essential Report from November 2016, members of the public were asked: Are you currently a member or have you ever been a member of any of the following groups?

In every category, there were more individuals who used to be a member than individuals who were currently members.

Participants were then asked: Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Besides the outcomes shown in the Essential Report Survey, many clubs have folded or been unable to continue business due to financial issues, fewer people are going to churches and social clubs and people are volunteering less.

So why is this? Why is it that clubs and organisations that were once so vital within communities are now something that 60% of people just aren’t interested in joining?

An important point to take from the Essential Report data is that people do not see the decline of membership in organisations as a good thing. 64% of people asked said that the decline of community groups was not a positive development.

But when looking at the rest of the data some of the reasons for the lack of these feelings being reflected in actions starts to become clear. Half of all people just don’t have the time to give outside of home and work.

In a world where our work has become steadily prioritised, engaging with community in a physical context is not always seen as a valuable use of our time.

When we work ten hour days five or six days a week, striving for excellence in all that we do professionally, it can be difficult to think about volunteering our valuable free time.

We are more globally connected than ever, but instead of seeing the similarities we share and developing communities around our common interests or backgrounds, we spend much of our time worrying that we are not keeping up, too busy to connect.

Humans are hardwired to interact with others; we need to have a connection with our community. Studies have shown that social isolation can lead to:

  • Increased levels of stress hormones
  • Poor sleep
  • Increased risk of mental health issues such as depression
  • A compromised immune system
  • Cognitive decline in the elderly

 All the health indicators say that the more we connect to people, especially as we get older, the better the quality of our life is and the more physically and mentally healthy we are the more connected we become to people. 

Research has found that “social connectedness” is, at the very least, as good for our health as quitting smoking. A 2010 review of 148 studies also found that those who felt isolated or less socially connected to others displayed a higher risk of early death than those who smoked, drank or were clinically obese.

The decline of our local clubs and organisations is not just the decline of cheap beer on a Friday night or games of chess at a café on Saturday morning. It is a reflection of a change in the way we connect with community.

Whether it be due to Globalism, technology, information overload, or our increasingly time-poor lives, we are spending less time physically connecting to others in our community.

So what can we do about this? What actions can we take to bring about connection in a world that offers fewer chances for it? How can we help the connection process?

Over the next week, think about whether you are what Allan refers to as a ‘connector’, or a ‘disconnector’.

  • When you are out and about do you walk along staring into your phone only just using your peripheral vision to avoid a nasty collision with a telephone pole?
  • Do you avoid eye contact with the cashier as they scan your items and slide them towards you?
  • Do you leave the house, walk to the bus, travel to work, and sit down at your desk without so much as a word to another person?
  • Or do you smile at people you pass by?
  • Do you ask the cashier how their day is going and joke about the guilty pleasure magazine you are buying?
  • Do you chat with others on the bus, at the school gates, in the park?
  • Are you a connector or a disconnector?