On my mind

Llanelli Star - - LETTERS - With Gra­ham Davies Fol­low Gra­ham on Twit­[email protected]

I HAVE al­ways en­joyed read­ing Si­mon Jenk­ins, the au­thor and colum­nist, but I was sur­prised to hear him claim re­cently that the an­swer to sav­ing our high streets lies in the church.

Now his fa­ther was a the­olo­gian and he did write a book – Eng­land’s Thou­sand Best Churches – but this was an in­trigu­ing claim.

Cer­tainly some­one who boasts of hav­ing the an­swer to the dy­ing high streets of our towns and cities needs to be lis­tened to, es­pe­cially if that per­son can re­sus­ci­tate Llanelli and res­ur­rect the high street stores.

Af­ter all, in the last decade sales have plum­meted, ma­jor stores have closed and prof­its have plunged while on­line sales have never been higher.

What Si­mon Jenk­ins had no­ticed was that the high street eco­nomic apoc­a­lypse was ac­com­pa­nied by the aban­don­ment of a com­mu­nity ex­pe­ri­ence, and that the closed store and the run­down church were both sym­bols of a lost so­cial co­he­sion.

So why not use the one to com­pen­sate for the other? In­ter­est­ing idea, I thought!

Cer­tainly closed churches or those with a hand­ful of peo­ple could be­come vi­brant com­mu­nity hubs and dig up what they used to do re­ally well – ed­u­cate, care for and pro­vide a com­mu­nity ex­pe­ri­ence for peo­ple.

Of course when the cen­tre of a com­mu­nity is sucked out peo­ple get cen­trifu­gally flung to its edges and end up talk­ing to them­selves, their dog, their budgie or, in this post-dig­i­tal age, Siri, Alexa and Cor­tana.

Tech­ni­cally gen­der­less but with a fe­male voice, these disem­bod­ied ar­ti­fi­cially hu­man­ised mon­strosi­ties sym­bol­ise all that is sad about so­ci­ety – the il­lu­sion that to be con­nected is to be in con­ver­sa­tion, to be plugged in is to be in a re­la­tion­ship. Hope­fully the death of the high street does not mark the end of di­a­logue, re­la­tion­ship and com­mu­nity.

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