Simran, aged 20, Willenhall
Simran joined the party when she was 16 years old when Ed Miliband was leader. She joined because she'd had enough of Tory austerity. Even though she was young at the time, she thought that there had to be a better way. For her Labour was the way to bring about change. She's currently a student and secretary of her local Labour party branch.
This is a very open question - it's hard to answer. In terms of society, I feel like I fit in alongside people. I feel like I belong in society and I get on with other people. I feel in my local community we have similar views and understanding, particularly about what needs to be changed. It's important for me to belong in my community and I'm passionate about where I'm from. I feel very proud to be born and bred in Willenhall. I work in my local library and I love that I get the chance to come across lots of people locally. There are lots of different local groups on social media and on Facebook such as the Watchdog group which helps spread awareness and helps people look out for each other in terms of crime in the area. It shows that people do care about our local community. I do, however, feel some people are less connected and there's this disillusionment. I know most of my neighbours but not all of them and I do think that is something that has changed. Back in the day, people would walk down the street and say good morning to each other but that's gone now. People seem to lead their own separate lives. I do think that we’re more divided. Brexit also has definitely divided people and there's been differences of opinions even in families. It's been divisive in my family as they voted for leave and I voted for remain and there were a lot of debates and arguments. You do tend to also see a generational divide.
Fran, aged 63, Vauxhall
Fran has been involved in Labour for a long time. She left the party around the time of the Iraq War but came back into the party just before Jeremy Corbyn was elected. She has had a long career in nursing and the care sector. She is a WASPI woman and chair of Disability Labour.
I have lived and worked in many different parts of the world and I’ve always been part of very different communities. I was born in Yorkshire and I've lived in Somerset, Devon, Eastbourne and in and around London for many years. I've also worked in two very different communities as a Clinical Nurse Specialist - CNS - in Gender Identity within the trans plus community and I’m also gay, so I feel like there are all sorts of communities that I belong to. I also did some of my CNS training in Amsterdam, as they were and still are at the cutting edge of gender nursing and I had to go there to qualify, so that also makes me feel very European.I know my neighbors and that is important to me wherever I've lived. I now live in a Housing Co-op and understand the importance of contributing to a community you are part of. But also neighbors are not just about who lives next door to you it's also about how you are involved in your community, I've always been involved in community projects which I see as part of my politics and my work life. I do worry about society becoming more polarised, and it worries me that the actions of the far right mean it’s harder for communities to unite because of racism and xenophobia. Austerity has contributed to that. Poverty is more dangerous than immigration. I love living in Stockwell because it is so diverse and I'm mixing with people from all over the world. For me that's what I'm used to doing and that's what makes this society so rich. We need to make communities more cohesive. Belonging is also very important to me because I am Jewish. I guess for me it goes back to the question of what is your community and where do you belong. As someone who is Jewish, for me it is about being part of a bigger community and a bigger world. We have something in Judaism called tikkun olam which is about repairing the world and no one person can do this alone but together we can be stronger and achieve more.
Will, aged 27, Croydon
Will lives in London having grown up in Manchester. He joined the party because of it’s recent shift to the left. By joining Labour he felt that he was finding his feet politically. He didn't want to continue to sit passively by when you can actually change things. He works in international development and is involved in his local party.
I'm not sure if I belong. It’s a bit of a yes and no thing. The first thing that comes to mind is the the fact that I don't often feel like I belong in some masculine spaces. For example I often don't feel comfortable with the typical conversations that may take place about women. I'm not sure if I belong in normal gender roles in that sense but I do think that there is another side to masculinity which I do feel more comfortable with, one that is changing and recognises that there is such a thing as toxic-masculinity. I guess for me belonging is about identity. I guess it's important to belong but it's also very complicated as identities as increasingly multi-faceted. I feel like we are living more atomised lives and in a more individualist society. It’s a London cliche, but I don't know my neighbours. I occasionally see people popping in and out of the flat but I don't know them. I've said hello occasionally but I don't know them. I feel like we also live in two spaces now, the physical world and online. Online there's definitely a massive divide but in person I think this is less significant. It's very difficult to be horrible face-to-face but it's a lot easier to be hateful online and I think that's part of the problem. It’s easier and, in my opinion, better to try and reconcile differences in person. I feel this country is very divided and there are now divides within divides and lots of new divides are being created within left, right, far-left, far-right, leave, remain etc. It’s a complicated system, we are having to deal with complexity at the moment. We really do need belonging as there are forces at play which seek to divide us it's one of the reasons I got more involved in the Labour Party as I was looking to belong to something and get to know people from my community. I wanted to be able to get to know like minded people as I just moved down from Manchester. But also to speak to people that I don't usually speak to. I do this a lot through door knocking and also through non political things. I’ve volunteered at a food bank and am trying to be involved in Crystal Palace Football Club’s Homelessness scheme. I like to speak to people who are different from me and who are not in any of my circles. I'm very aware that I have a white middle-class background so I haven’t always engaged with people outside of that demographic and also with people who have different political beliefs. I think it’s important to have your beliefs challenged and social media isn’t always a conduit for that, it’s like an echo chamber. I also think we as Labour have to start to contest narratives about belonging. When I was 18 I strongly rejected patriotism. I thought we shouldn't be pro British but since then I've actually changed my view. I realised I'd allowed someone else to define what Britishness and Englishness was. The left needs to contest this - it needs a progressive patriotism like the one Billy Bragg talks about. We need to celebrate British things like the NHS, the suffragettes, the fact that one of our most loved cuisines is from the Indian sub-continent not necessarily our involvement in wars and Empire. We need to build a new narrative around belonging as its a powerful force. There is no objective ‘Britishness’, it will always be contested and we need to make sure we’re contesting it, particularly in the context of Brexit where more than ever we need to embrace internationalism and diversity.
Jane, aged 61, Wigan
Jane grew up in Caerphilly and has been a member periodically for the last 40 years. Her parents weren't active in the party but they watched all the conferences on television. One of her first memories was getting involved in the miners strikes. She’s been retired for 5 years having worked as a teacher and is involved in her local party.
As someone who doesn't come from the area of Wigan, I still feel really welcome. Through my work at the local Further Education college, I very much feel I belong in the community and I was never made to feel like an outsider. I think in some ways that's because people in South Wales and people in the North have very similar common characteristics. We have a common background and share a common way of life. I have spent the last 5 years in Shevington Village in Wigan and I've been very active in societies and involved in the community. I have been involved in many local activities including Wigan Healthy Lifestyles. I also volunteer for a charity called Bookcycle which took over many of the libraries in the village and relies on donations. We have a shop in the centre of Wigan where people can bring in their old books and buy other books, paying what they can afford. I feel like society has become more divisive. I feel really strongly that a lot of people find it really difficult to get confidence to join in. There's a lot out there in terms of helping more vulnerable people but I think a lot of it is about trying to get the individual to become more involved. There are a lot of people who do feel like they belong in places but for those who don't feel that I think life is hard life, especially for young people. It can also be a lot harder for you to belong when you have an unstable housing situation. More broadly I think nationalism and patriotism can do a lot of damage. As a Welsh person people ask me if I’m proud to be Welsh but I see that as being divisive. I welcome people's differences but the more you pronounce difference, the more intolerance there is. It isn't good when you put one set of values against the other like that. I do feel we are becoming more intolerant and I worry about it.