To Create Community: Some Contrasting Interwar Initiatives in the UK

Lesley Hall (Wellcome Library, London)
20 June 2010


This paper will consider some contrasting approaches to meeting the need for community during the interwar years in the UK in a world in which human connections were increasingly perceived as fragmented. 
A number of organisations provided, at least in theory, a means for scattered individuals to find a community of like minds with whom they could work towards common goals. These often had grandiose agendas of reform, for example the various groups that were set up to bring into being H G Wells' idea of the 'Open Conspiracy', or the loose umbrella body the Federation of Progressive Societies and Individuals. 
These bodies largely existed as virtual spaces of community but there were also various initiatives to set up actual physical communities, from New Towns to anarchist communes such as Whiteway, bringing together individuals who wanted to live in different ways.
A contrasting approach to creating community was the ‘Peckham Experiment’, the Pioneer Health Centre, 1926-1950, set up by the doctors George Scott Williamson and Innes Pearse. In order to pursue their research into the factors that made for health, rather than merely preventing or curing disease, they established a Centre which would not only provide regular and detailed health examinations for members but also a social club. Instead of drawing together individuals who were geographically separated from one another, it took a specific area of suburban London and aimed to recreate community between families who no longer saw themselves as part of a local interdependent community. Although it did not long survive into the era of the National Health Service, its findings and its philosophy remain influential.

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