A session called, ‘Are you local?’, was held at the Durham Book Festival in October 2012. It featured three authors discussing their writing on the theme of localism and its consequences. Emily Cockayne, Peter Mortimer and Michael Smith discussing the theme of localism, its meaning and its consequences. Emily Cockayne read from her book Cheek by Jowl: A History of Neighbourliness (Bodley Head: 2012) tracing the story of the British neighbour through nine centuries - spanning Medieval, Tudor and Victorian periods, two world wars and up to today's modern, virtual world. Michael Smith read a piece 'Are you local?' commissioned for the festival and reproduced in full under the writing tab of this website. Peter Mortimer read from his book Made in Nottingham (Five Leaves, 2012) part memoir, part documentary and social commentary, which describes how he took up residence in the same street he grew up in, on the Sherwood council estate in Nottingham.
Question from audience member: I was wondering if you could say something about the experience that I’ve come across in a number of people, a real sense of belonging to a local area where you weren’t born but where there is a recognition when, perhaps when you moved to it for work, there was a recognition and a sense of identity with that area. Being local even though you have no claim there to being local.
Michael Smith: I moved from East London to West London and I’d lived in West London before, yeah I had a real strong sense of being an East Londoner [inaudible] and also, being part of Soho, I went on [develop] to that sense of belonging there are various parts of London. It’s not something I think that comes instantly but over time, you sort of start to belong to your local patch, don’t you?
Peter: I mean, I feel, I have a sense of belonging to Cullercoats now, very much, like I belong to Nottingham, I belong to Sheffield, I went to London for a bit I belong to London. And now for many years I’ve belonged to Cullercoats, I won’t belong anywhere else, it’s very strong, I feel quite privileged that I landed somewhere like Cullercoats. I like it because it’s within easy reach of the town, I like big cities, I like what goes on in them, it’s on the metro so that’s a kind of artery out of the smallness of Cullercoats, which if it was stuck in the middle of nowhere would probably drive me mad but it’s not, you know, and so I can actually appreciate the good aspects of it but also jump on the metro and go into town.
The video of this session at the book festival is available here.
Often you find in those communities that it was the men that knew each other as work colleagues and would meet at the local pub and then the wives had a different relationship, a home-based relationship and they would keep the neighbouring together. And some communities were questioned in the early 20C about their understanding of neighbourliness and the men in those communities would often say: “Neighbour? What does that mean?” Whereas the women were the ones that saw themselves as the active neighbours. The men because they had such familiarity with each other through work, just knew them as a body of people in their locality but they didn’t really know them as neighbours, whereas the women did. In fact one man was so affronted to be asked does he know the neighbours he thought that the interviewer had mistaken him for a woman (Emily Cockayne, author of Cheek by Jowl, A History of Neighbours).