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Why everyday culture matters so much

Our chair, Ruth Pitt, spoke to the Yorkshire Evening Post as they begin their countdown to the Year of Culture

People are extraordinary. Throughout each month of this last brutal year, we have managed overwhelmingly to adapt, endure and even find humour in our global predicament.

When all this is well and truly over, we will look back with unbridled astonishment at the sheer scale of what we’ve survived. How on earth did we get through that, we’ll ask ourselves, how did we deal with the hardships and the losses, the isolation and the deprivation that one way or another each of us has at some point experienced?

That’s what we’ll think one day but even as we dare to believe that the beginning of the end is tantalisingly close, right now we’re still turning up our collective collars against the pandemic’s biting winds and dropping our shoulders defiantly through the Covid storm.

We could have been forgiven for simply giving up. Staying indoors 24/7 while the outside world seemed so risky, or giving our workaday clothes the brush-off to languish in our pyjamas because, let’s face it, no-one’s going to visit anyway. But no. We have continued to find ingenious reasons to be cheerful, turning to everyday culture and creativity as our lifeline to hope.

It’s a funny word, culture, used to describe the customs and behaviour of people in society or signifying something far more lofty, such as the collective regard we humans tend to have for others who produce great music, art, poetry, dance, theatre.

To me it’s the stuff we do that we don’t have to do – but it makes us feel good. The very root of the word explains why everyday culture has helped protect our physical and mental health these last few months: culture means to cultivate, to nurture.

Despite being prevented from socialising with any degree of normality, everyday culture has helped us find new ways to connect. Nothing grand, just a million small acts of community and creativity to get us through dark times.

Genius little social media inventions that made us laugh. Knitting groups, book clubs, singers separated by lockdown who came together in fine voice online. Those musicians living in the same street who formed an impromptu band giving daily performances for their neighbours.

Amateur dressmakers who embroidered lockdown quilts, kids who painted rainbows on everything (their parents are probably still trying to scrub them off). Families who played frisbee heroically across garden fences and nailed socially distanced footie in the park.

We turn to everyday culture because it comforts us, cheers us up. It can cost little or nothing but the returns are immense.

We all need culture – to feed our souls, lift our spirits, help us find common ground, share experiences. I’ve recently stopped listening to the news on my headphones when I’m running and I put music on instead. Matt Hancock versus Taylor Swift? No contest.

I understand now why people went dancing during the war. It wasn’t because they didn’t care what was happening; it was because they did. War hurt, and dancing brought comfort.

If we’ve learned one thing in the last year it’s that everyday culture will always be there for us.

First published in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 1 March 2021 – see article