young student nurse

Looking back at our community's history

May is Local and Community History month, so we delve into history to see why we are stronger together
11 May 2020

May is Local and Community History Month – a month intended to  celebrate great communities working together, empowering each other and being vital parts of people’s lives. The very essence of community is that of a collective strength and unity, but also empathy – it's the ability to see other people’s problems as versions of their own realities that makes us human. People often choose to help each other because they understand the value in maintaining the relationships with those closest to them, not just in a familial way, but often a geographical one. Helping others is really a look to both the future and the past; we choose to help because we are so grateful for how we ourselves have been helped, or may indeed need help in future.

This seems as pertinent as ever – we are currently in a worldwide pandemic – a temporary but all-encompassing situation. It can be consuming, with a constant flow of worries about our own wellbeing and that of our families, friends and neighbours. We extend our sympathies to those affected around the world because we can see the sorrows this can cause – but it also affords us a great opportunity to extend empathy and warmth to those not only in the global community, but to those within our local ones. We are all connected, and we share as much in each other’s misfortunes and sadness as much as we do our successes, inspirations and joys. This is a time in which we must band together – the community united is living proof that the sum is always greater than its parts – together really is better.

Southwark has seen its fair share of difficult circumstances throughout history, and LSBU is no stranger to this, either. In fact, parts of LSBU, namely the Borough Road building, dating from the 30s, had to be rebuilt after “serious [damage]”.

The building was hit twice, both on 30th September 1940 and on 11th May 1941. It was an interesting time through the country, but this is a great example of that community spirit – the local area was affected by the war, but the importance of education and community shone through – it was rebuilt and is still standing to this day. The Perry Library was even built on top of a site that was bombed!

If you delve even further back into the Archives, there are instances of LSBU and the local council helping out in times of need. During WW1, Borough Polytechnic (us before we were LSBU) ran a trade school in which the boys helped out with the war effort in a munitions workshop.  Similarly, the Girls’ Trade School helped out in a series of food demonstrations called the Food Economy Campaign. It’s a beautiful example of why community is so important – when time's are hard, people can share their knowledge of how to ensure everything can feel as normal as possible, despite the global situation at the time.

Interestingly, between during 1917 and 1918, the local councils of Southwark and Bermondsey issued advice on how to shop, cook and feed yourself and those around you – a nice connection to our current situation. Not to belittle the difficult wartime period, or to underplay how difficult today may be for some people, it feels at least comforting to me to know that we have been in difficult times before, especially with food and supplies, but it is possible that the power of cooperation and local support we can not only weather the times, but even enjoy ourselves and make the best of what we have if we rely on each other.

This brings us to today – at the risk of playing down the gravity of the situation, it’s important to realise that we have each other. It may not always be easy, and we may face trying times, but there is no shortage of reasons as to why we can’t be thankful for each other.

Camberwell residents running a literal marathon around the square in front of their homes (at a safe distance!), raising over £3000 for a food bank in Southwark; we’ve seen countless recoveries from COVID-19; and the Jack Petchey Foundation’s running a competition awarding young people for their work during this time – work done out of their devotion to helping others, exhibiting that community spirit.

This is a time to pull together and, in some way, celebrate what we do have. LSBU is part of a community; not only of students and academics, but a local one, made up of great people; the kind of people that set up rapid response teams to battle COVID-19, or the kind that brighten everyone’s days by painting rainbow murals for all to see. Whilst we can’t pretend this is an easy time, I like to think this is a month in which we can appreciate those around us and make sure we keep strong – as strong as those literal foundations we were built on out of a time of crisis.

We are stronger together, together as a community.

Brendan Conlan