Community spirit amid Covid crisis has been inspirational – Christine Jardine MP

Sometimes words cannot express my admiration for what communities and individuals are doing to help each other in these most difficult times, writes Christine Jardine MP.

The Seagull Trust provides canal trips for people with learning and physical disabilities (Picture: Scott Louden)
The Seagull Trust provides canal trips for people with learning and physical disabilities (Picture: Scott Louden)

People. It’s the word my long-suffering staff, and to be fair anyone else who will listen, are used to hearing me opine is the most important word in politics.

It’s why we do it.

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So you can imagine my satisfaction this week when a word cloud produced by the House of Commons confirmed that it is the one which I have used most often in the chamber during my three years in parliament.

Words have always been important to me – and never have they been more important than now. They should be coming forth from our leaders like a poetic hug to provide comfort and to strengthen our resolve. To strengthen another vital word: community. Particularly when it is coupled with spirit.

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That particular duo have been much in evidence over the past few months as the people politicians serve have striven to cope with the impact of Covid-19.

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Of course, what we often overlook is that community spirit is not something which can suddenly somehow be conjured up in a moment of national crisis.

It has to be carefully nurtured and developed through the best of times to help us through these worst of times.

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All across Scotland we have seen that community spirit blossom when we needed it most. Because people – there is that word again – have been working in, and for, their own and other communities often unrecognised for years in a way that we are only now beginning to appreciate.

Yes, there have been examples of the other side of that coin, with mindless protests at our borders and now Edinburgh airport. Protests about which the kindest thing that can be said is that they are misguided.

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Fortunately as well as being mindless, nasty and a betrayal of everything our communities have achieved, these anti-English protests are also rare.

People are people. This week I have been reminded much more of what is good in our communities as I took the opportunity offered by the easing of lockdown to get out and catch up with how those who have been at the core of projects have been coping.

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It would be fair to say there is a huge gulf between what might have been anticipated and the astonishing things that they have achieved.

There are people who give their time for free to enhance the lives of others less fortunate.

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There are those who use their interests and knowledge to create beautiful enjoyable spaces.

And there are professionals whose guiding hands help steer projects to support our economically challenged communities.

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We are fortunate to benefit from all three in Edinburgh. At Ratho on the outskirts of the city I met the Seagull Trust who provide canal trips on our restored waterways for those with learning and physical disabilities.

It takes funding to maintain the boats at their four bases across Scotland, as well as insurance and general financing. Every penny raised by the trust goes into what it does.

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Like many charitable organisations their fund-raising efforts have been hugely curtailed by this crisis and they now need our support.

In many ways they epitomise something which I heard from a professional working on a project which is one of the most influential in my constituency, indeed the city.

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While visiting North Edinburgh Arts we discussed the remarkable things that have been achieved there despite its normal operations being rendered impossible by lockdown.

Its Muirhouse base has been the hub for many organisations providing support and hot meals for those in our communities who have been most at risk.

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Their most recent and ambitious plans to enter community ownership have now been passed by the city council.

And it was while discussing them that their manager Sandra Newby remarked that what community groups need is for funding bodies to have confidence in them to know what is best for the people they work with.

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Give them the financing and let them do what they have the experience and involvement to recognise is most needed. Trust. That is another crucial word, especially in terrible times.

Trust in the people themselves to do what is right and best because they understand what is needed. One of the recurring themes from talking to businesses and organisations in recent weeks is the desire for Government to trust that they know what is best for their industry.

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And to empower them, alongside each other, to deliver. Perhaps nowhere illustrates that better than the work done by the Friends of Saughton Park.

What they do on a day-to-day basis in enhancing the open space enjoyed by the surrounding communities is breathtaking.

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They work with others such as the Royal Horticultural Society to provide a facility which boasts an orchard, walled garden, bistro and whose enchanting flower beds and serene atmosphere were exactly what I needed to relax at the end of a hectic day.

What all of these projects have in common for me is that word ‘community’ in its purest definition.

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If you look it up you will find that the definition is not simply confined to area but to “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”.

And that is what I have witnessed this week across Edinburgh – a common positive attitude to working for our communities and individuals in the most difficult of times and circumstances.

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It has been inspirational and moving. There are not enough words in the English language to express my admiration for what they achieve.

As for that other, unacceptable side of the coin, fortunately we see little evidence of it in this crisis and where we do it is best not to waste valuable words.

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Spirit, a word whose value clearly cannot be underestimated is from the Latin, spiritus, meaning breath.

We need to continue to breathe life into our communities. There can be even more to celebrate.

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Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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