I was struck this weekend when visiting some friends and business associates in West Wales how integrated the business community is with the local community. Everyone knows each other, and their business is your business. In fact, I heard a story of someone who had stolen some items from a farm and then tried to sell it to someone in another village. The attempted ‘buyer’ recognised where the items were from and promptly rang the farmer’s brother who they knew, and the vendor soon had a visit asking him to put the items back! Of course, in many of our urban communities, we have lost this connectivity and rootedness and, as a result, crime is higher, but, perhaps a more worrying aspect is that businesses are isolated from the communities within which they operate.
When businesses are connected to their community, the incentive to be a benefit rather than a hindrance to that community are almost impossible to avoid. What business wants to be known as the ones that are sucking life out of the community rather than resourcing it? It is difficult for businesses to behave badly in that situation as their actions have impact on the owner’s friends within the community, so unless they are completely hard-hearted then they will minimize any negative impact on the local community. The film, Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts, was one such example of a business that did not give a damn about the community they were impacting – and remember this was based on a true story of the flagrant abuse of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California.
As businesses become larger and are based in larger towns and cities or even other countries, then there is not only geographical distance but also psychological distance. It is easier to conveniently ‘forget’ about negative impact on communities of people. ‘Out of sight out of mind’ is an appropriate adage for many businesses. We are fortunate that many businesses within the speciality food sector do try and benefit the community in small ways, but it is time for these businesses to step up a gear and become the cheer-leaders for their local communities rather than an appendage that hangs on the edge of the local residential communities. Businesses are reliant on local communities and they are also reliant on the wider town or city communities yet there is a lack of rootedness.
On a larger scale many larger businesses spend a fortune trying to avoid paying national taxes that go towards the roads their business uses, the school their employees learn the skills that benefit their workers and the nurseries that look after their staff’s children whilst they are making money for the tax avoiders. Businesses like this do not deserve our support and it is encouraging to see that many young people coming into the work place now are wanting to work for companies like us that have a better community ethic. We welcomed into Cotswold Fayre two people like that within the last week, and I hope you too are encouraging community-minded individuals to join you.