The new decade of the 2020s must become a ‘decade of reconnection’ to heal divides in our society say key leaders from across faith, culture, sport, civil society and business.
In an open letter published on 1 January they urge citizens and institutions across the UK to make a New Year’s resolution for the new decade “to start rebuilding connections between neighbours and fellow citizens”. The letter, jointly signed by names such as Glastonbury Festival’s Emily Eavis, the Young Vic’s artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, and Carolyn Fairbairn of the CBI, calls on every citizen to “reach out to just one person we don’t know, or from whom we have drifted apart.” It comes ahead of a major initiative launching later this year to increase social connection across the country, which will involve national and local organisations as well as the public.
Signatories to the letter range from leaders of different faiths to the heads of the Scouts, Girl Guides, business, trade unions, sporting and cultural institutions, and major charities. It also includes former heads of the Leave and Remain referendum campaigns, Matthew Elliot and Will Straw. They all acknowledge that “our country feels more fragmented than any of us would like” and that it falls to all of us to do something about it. But their message is also one of hope, stating: “While our politics and media have become more polarised we, as people, have not. There is much that we share with each other.”
Recent surveys have shown there is a sense of division and disconnection in the country today, with 69 per cent of people saying they are angrier about politics and society than they were before the EU referendum and 21% of the adult population – nearly 11 million people – reporting that they often or always feel lonely. Yet trust in each other remains high and has even increased: 82% of people agree that their area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together.
Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of the Young Vic theatre, said: “The past ten years have been a decade of division. It’s now up to all of us to do something about it. At the Young Vic, putting our theatre at the heart of the local community and telling the stories of people who live there has helped to welcome and include everyone, regardless of age, race, religion or class. We need to harness the power of shared experiences and reconnect with each other if we are to heal divides in Britain today.”
Imam Qari Asim, Chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, said: “What worries me, in these polarised times, is that our growing distance from each other can breed fear of those who we don’t know or are seen as different. At my mosque in Leeds I see many efforts to connect with others – when we mark Remembrance or the Great Get Together, for instance. But I see the gaps too – people who don’t have much contact with those from a different background to their own.
Sunder Katwala, director of the independent think tank British Future, said: “As a society we may be more divided than we’d like but perhaps we are less divided than people keep telling us. Look beyond our angry politics at people’s everyday lives and there is so much that we all share. There’s a risk that polarisation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if we let it define us – we can’t ignore our differences but we can focus on the things that do bring us together.”