Embracing change

The beauty of having my own blog is that I can write about thoughts and ideas as and when they come to me. Sometimes this means writing blogs on consecutive days, other times a week or two can pass  by without a word written. The impulsive nature of my writing means that there isn’t always much of a structure or progression to it. I’ve been meaning to follow up my blog on Daisy Christodoulou’s ‘Making good progress?’ with some concrete examples of putting the theory into practice, but I haven’t yet got round to it. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Apart from some reading, I haven’t done much work this holiday (at least not any history teaching work). The gap between my aspirations and reality is, as ever, disappointingly wide. Maybe that explains why I’m not a CEO or top dog of an organisation – not enough discipline.

Anyway, a little light bulb moment today has prompted this latest piece of writing. It might not, when I explain it, come across as anything majorly insightful to you, but it was a light bulb moment to me. Here goes.

I was walking along the Crystal Palace triangle this morning, doing various errands. First, I went into the library to return some books and have a sniff around. I was pleasantly surprised by the recent refurbishment. After much controversy and the continued threat of closure, the library has dispensed with the traditional librarians who stamped your books for you, in favour of self-service machines. Despite the outcry at these job losses, I must confess that for me as a consumer, the change has been a positive one. The library is now open most days and for longer hours. I don’t have to queue and wait patiently while each book is scanned in and stamped. The librarians’ desks, which took up a lot of space, have been removed and the whole internal layout re-organised. The result is a much more aesthetically pleasing environment, with more books on display than ever before, as well as new computer terminals for people who need them. What a lovely transformation!

Moving on from the library, I walked round the corner to do a bit of shopping. Walking along, I noticed a new eatery had opened which specialises in cured meats and pickles, then further along I saw a new vintage furniture shop.  Walking a little further, I noticed some people working on putting the finishing touches to a new restaurant. So much change in such a short time. I remember when we moved to West Norwood six years ago, nearby Crystal Palace was a bit of a dump. Not so now that gentrification has taken hold. Every time I go there, it seems to me some new shop or restaurant has opened.

Round the corner from my house, a new block of flats has sprung up practically overnight. That’s in addition to the block of flats that was built not so long ago round the other corner. Houses have been bought and sold along my street, with the new owners adding loft or side return extensions, and redesigning the frontage. My street looks very different now to how it was when we bought our shabby house six years ago (which we then refurbished). Everywhere I look, there is constant change afoot. I suspect what I am describing is all too familiar to anybody else living in London. We have gotten used to the city changing and never standing still.

Contrast this with the sleepy villages and towns of north Yorkshire that I visited on our holiday last week. I recall describing the coastal villages as having been frozen in time. Driving along country roads on the north Yorkshire Moors, I remember thinking that if I had a time machine to bring over someone living 50 years ago to this place now, they wouldn’t find it any different, except perhaps for the modern car I was driving.

And so to my light bulb moment. It was rather a simplistic thought but here it is. Change is normal for us in the city, but not so for small towns and rural areas. We can greet a new building development or a new shop with a blasé shrug of the shoulders. It’s part of life. What must it be like for out-of-towners? Can the real Brexit divide be, not about young and old, but about cities and the countryside?

We are living in a time of tremendous change. Technological innovation, globalisation, mass migration. City dwellers have grown accustomed to change. It does not threaten us. We have accepted it as part of everyday life. When this change starts to impinge on the lives of non-city dwellers, it is met with a different reaction. It is a threat to an established way of life, to be avoided at all costs. And the most obvious symbol of change is the immigrant, from Africa or Eastern Europe, who sets up house on your street or opens a grocery shop on your high street.

It’s taken me a while, but I finally begin to get a sense of how communities with relatively low immigration are most worried about immigration. It’s the communities that have had the least change that are worried the most about change. Like many others on edu-twitter, I read Michael Merrick’s blog last week about his working class family and his defence of their vote to leave the EU. However in my case, greater understanding does not lead to condoning. I still believe that our country’s decision at last year’s referendum was the wrong one. For, no matter how you couch it, in terms of regaining control of our borders, our laws or our ability to trade, or even if in the long run it turns out we are better placed to weather political storms on the continent or such like, in the here and now, this was a xenophobic decision with real consequences for many families and good people. The 100 EU nationals who received letters this week (in error it seems) telling them to leave the country, would not have done so without last year’s vote. Our very own Grumpy Teacher has emigrated rather than face the prospect in the future of being separated from his German wife. Another teacher blogger, Big Kid, has written about how he has experienced more racism since the referendum vote. I get that change can feel threatening to some, but pulling up the drawbridge is not the answer. Face it headway rather than resist it and you will find that it’s not as threatening as you thought.

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  1. Dave F

    I’d say, though, that every change begets winners and losers. In my own city, where gentrification happens, often working class people—usually minorities–are forced out, meaning they have to go through the issues of finding a new place and may have to commute farther to work.

    So, yes, change happens in the city—it’s often messy and causes anger, but we are more used to it than the country—but the rural areas have a much harder time providing the “losers” in the change with new housing/new jobs/new lives. This loss creates resentment and that resentment leads to Trumpism or Brexit–especially when perceived elites act as if this is just the natural order of things.

    1. historylover

      Thanks for your comment Dave, and I can’t say I disagree with any of your analysis.

  2. Alison Honeybone

    I like your positive approach to change – honestly I do. We all need to welcome change. Thank you for addressing the good aspects of this often scary process. But I’m pretty sure the sacked librarians wouldn’t see the changes as ‘a lovely transformation’ as they hit the JobCentre! And neither would the many wobbly, often lonely, sometimes confused people who genuinely rely on libraries for a chat, some human contact and even a book recommendation. When we are whizzing around during our busy, largely positive lives, we can all sometimes forget that not everyone is having the same experience of change. And that takes us back to Michael Merrick’s point – we have to remind ourselves all the time that if things are going well for us in a time of rapid change, that’s not how everyone is experiencing things. Anyway…thanks again, keep writing!

    1. historylover

      Thanks for your comment. With regards to the library. It isn’t totally unmanned, there is someone there at all times to answer any enquiry. Of course I have sympathy for the people that lost their jobs but they would have done so regardless if the library had shut down. This question of automation isn’t going away. With driverless trains and driverless cars for starters, there is potentially a whole raft of jobs where human beings may be replaced by machines. Do we then resist this technological innovation just so that people can hang on to jobs that can be done more cheaply, safely & efficiently by machines? I think it will be hard to resist that tide when it comes, so the question that should exercise the minds of planners and politicians is, how else can people be productively engaged? A universal basic income has been mooted by some as a way to mitigate those job losses to automation. That could be part of the answer but it doesn’t solve the problem of the human need to feel productive and useful.
      As to your other point, quite clearly, not everyone is having the same experience of change. I think what I was trying to express in my blog was that although it is understandable that some people are fearful of change, it doesn’t follow that change is necessarily a negative thing and that perceptions are often out of synch with reality.

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