ARC Blog - The Changing Role of Businesses in our Communities

Richard Barnes, former statutory deputy mayor of London, offers his latest thoughts on the role of businesses in our community

I was born in a farming village in the Isle of Ely, North Cambridgeshire. It was a defined community within a couple of parishes – the high (with a spire) and low churches (with a tower). Everyone knew each other. It was a true village mentality– kick one and they all limped!

At harvest time, the entire village would come together to help set potatoes, pick celery and provide vital supplies to guarantee that the whole community prospered together. I still recall a group of villagers flocking to help put out a haystack fire. I vividly remember the community helping the farmer to recover by ensuring that there was enough food and bedding for the animals in the aftermath.

These days we tend to classify such activities as “Business Continuity”: a concept where those in a community help one another to prepare, respond, recover from and mitigate potential disruption. Previously, we fondly called it: “looking after each other.”

Urbanisation has come to stifle many of our community instincts. Our ever-changing world, combined with a high turnover of neighbours, has led to a sense of isolation and a feeling of being disconnected from each other.

Nevertheless, when tragedy strikes it is amazing how quickly our community spirit springs to the fore. It was there on 9/11 when offers of beds and clothing came flooding in. The support offered was inspiring. 

Following 7/7, Marks and Spencers became a triage centre; the Metropole Hotel cleared rooms to create rest areas for emergency workers; offices opened their doors to offer survivors respite; and the Salvation Army provided gallons of tea and hundreds of bacon sandwiches to sustain the emergency services.

Similarly, after the fire at Grenfell Towers, the support offered was tremendous. The local community provided food, clothing and all manner of practical and monetary support to those who had suffered such a terrible loss.

In each of these instances, communities sprang to life to support neighbours and strangers alike. The unquenchable sense of humanity burst forth demonstrating once again that London truly is a series of villages.

We must recognise that the definition of a community has changed significantly in conurbations such as London. What was previously a defined village, has become an area composed of groups of individuals, companies, shopping malls, schools, or indeed, Business Improvement Districts, who share a common interest. This interest may be based on geographical location, commercial interests or security. Mutual support in times of crisis can ensure the minimisation of threat and lead to shorter recovery periods.

Working together enhances our safety, ensures support and sustains us all. Society is dominated by social media and electronic communication. It is the quickest way of communicating with defined groups of people, businesses or mass audiences.

There are now apps available to all that facilitate the communication process and enhance the cohesion of community. London First and Alchemmy Consulting have recently launched the ARC Project. ARC is an app that ought to be in every shopping mall, multi-use building, tower block and market place.  It is needed anywhere there is a community where members have a mutual reliance on each other.

By Richard Barnes, former Statutory Deputy Mayor of London and an Associate of Alchemmy.

About ARC

Allowing business communities to raise awareness, understand, share and act upon best practice, ARC stimulates resilient behaviours. Its library of best practice, newsfeeds and benchmarking tools enable communities to plan and track critical performance improvements. Co-ordinating through ARC, communities apply resilience to effectively anticipate disruptions and optimise their long-term commercial advantage.

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