The Beginning of Belonging

I Stood Up

It’s a well talked and well written about element of the human condition, the search for belonging; in terms of both a physical place and also a space within ourselves in which we are content and loving. Yet within the current global context which sees people being forced from their homes and communities the search for this sense belonging feels even more pressingly political and poignant.

Then there’s this idea about belonging in terms of ownership, us belonging to something and something belonging to us. That something might be an item of clothing. Or a sense of entitlement we have to, let’s say nature, that nature belongs to us and is therefore something we can use. Can we only use it because we own it? And if we shift our emphasis do we shift the way we do things?

Both these senses of belonging cut through to some of the central ideas we explore when we think about sustainability and were ideas we explored in relation to community at an ‘I Stood Up‘ event at the Museum of London.  A community can heighten our sense of belonging and shift our ideas about where we live and what we hope to achieve for ourselves and others. Here at CSF we call ourselves a community of people who are interested in and work in ways to promote sustainability in fashion. And this cannot be done alone. We are also part of a university, which brings together educators and students in a learning community.

Collaborating with the Being Human Festival for the third time was then a way to join a larger community exploring what it means to be human? And also for us to explore where people recognise community in London? Whether people feel they belong to a community? And in what ways fashion contributes to (or doesn’t) community and feelings of belonging.

Some things we considered as community included: having something in common, sharing a space or a commitment to something or an idea. That together a group is more than the sum of its parts. We talked to over 30 people about their thoughts on community in London and heard lots of different insights and ideas. Many people talked about community meaning taking responsibility, sharing responsibility, making a contribution, having a sense of shared values and interests, and caring.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Brexit and the European community dominated many conversations, with many people discussing a feeling of loss, a loss of belonging to something or of being part of something and raises interesting questions in the context of nationalism, statehood and personhood. This idea of community, of belonging to something bigger than oneself was strong for a lot of people, even if they didn’t necessarily feel like they were part of something smaller and more local.Which makes me wonder if this is part of city life or something that is lost as city life becomes faster and more fragmented? Fewer people talked about belonging locally to something but many mentioned religion/church, sports, nationality, food (ie vegetarianism), political belonging, and being part of a online community.

Indeed, many participants talked about community being harder to recognise and find in big cities such as London – factors included: long working hours, commuting in and out of central London, frequency of moving places, crime/fear of crime, apathy, individualism, and anonymity.

The sense of belonging that can come from feeling part of something goes some way to assuage the individualism that pervades society. Infrastructure is needed to support this sense of belonging whether that’s in terms of public spaces that groups can use to meet together or regulatory frameworks that prevent people working for too long or not being able to access holiday pay. For communities to flourish they need to be protected and supported.