It is funny that when we talk about Can Do places and enterprising places and communities, we seem to ignore one really important element – safety. The truth is we cannot be really enterprising and have a strong local economy if we are not and do not feel safe.
So we asked our friend Ronnie Megaughin over at the Scottish Business Resilience Centre to reflect on this for us.
“I grew up in a small village (Moulin, Perthshire) which had one shop, a pub and a church, all three were the heart of the community and each met the needs of very different groups but they ensured there was social cohesion and a sense of community spirit which fed a sense of safety.
“Safety exists on two levels, reality and perception, and both need equal focus in any programme or initiative developed to enhance people’s experience of being in a community. The very presence, and probably the specific location, of those iconic premises in my small village made people feel safe because they offered the critical elements necessary for that to be achieved. Those were social interaction in the pub, refuge and worship in the church and a hub of activity, communication and provision in the shop. When the shop was under threat of closure, a retired postmaster took it upon himself to open up a replacement in the annexe to his house so strong was the need for that to be continued in the community at a time when the first supermarket had come to the nearby larger town.
In all of my 17 years before I left to go to Edinburgh I never once felt unsafe but I never really stopped to consider why.
“In 26 years of policing I have experienced the best and worst that humanity is capable of, I believe those experiences are well beyond what most people’s imagination but nevertheless they happen. Whilst in my early service I probably secretly harboured a desire that those experiences should continue because they were unique and exciting and to some extent I was remote from them because they were happening to individuals that I didn’t know and didn’t impact on my life.
A big change came when I moved to live and work in the same town. Now things were different because I could identify and the whole situation became more personal. It was that motivation that made me think back to my youth and what it was that made us safe. What made us safe was that people cared about where they lived and they invested time and energy to ensure that continued to be the case even if it meant coming out of retirement to maintain the only shop in the village because it was so important to have that enterprising presence as it indicated where the heart of the community lay.
In my new role as a Local Community Inspector I saw how important that same need for enterprise was in ensuring vibrancy and life in the community. The first BID town in Scotland came to be because people had pride, they wanted to improve the landscape and for me as the Local Inspector it was logical in my pursuit of a safe environment in which people could live, work and visit. New business was encouraged, local crafts and creative arts were encouraged. Life continued beyond 5pm in and around the town and continues to do so.
The environment has improved, radical change has taken place which in another age would have been subject to vandalism and petty crime, but now is the conversation of community pride.
Why did that work?
It worked because people had desire and faith that things could be improved, that it could be a safer place but only if enterprising individuals were at the heart of it. The town still thrives despite the presence of large retail centres and supermarkets. My experience is that cannot be achieved in heartless, sprawling residential masses.
I recently had cause to return ‘home’ which I had not visited for years and I noticed that the shop had gone, but there was now an art exhibition in its place. The church is no longer used for worship, but welcomes visitors to view local creations, and the pub, whilst still very much like it was before, now has a micro-brewery in the old building to the rear. This is an indication of how the world moves places on but those that are safe will have enterprise at their heart.”