Anywhere or Somewhere?

This month marks one year since I moved back to Northern Ireland after several years away, and it has been interesting to observe how different life is here compared to the cosmopolitan cities I lived in before. Not better, not worse – just different.

Most of you who follow this blog are probably here for content on faith and autism. Although this post is not directly about autism, I want to think about the idea of community and belonging, which can be difficult for autistic people to find.

The author David Goodhart theorised the UK population can be neatly divided into two categories: ‘Somewheres’ and ‘Anywheres’.  Somewheres have a strong attachment to the place where they grew up, and are likely to remain near their hometown for life.  Their families have been living in that town for generations, and they are rel­­ated to half the town (slight exaggeration, but I have been amazed at how many people are distantly related to each other here!). Anywheres, on the other hand, are more mobile, and will move around several times throughout their lives, often ending up in major cities like London or New York. They see their biological families less frequently, and create ‘found families’ of people with similar experiences and outlooks. Goodhart writes about this divide from a political point of view, but I am more interested in how it applies to our day-to-day life.

Somewheres make up the majority of the population. UK-wide, the most recent data I could find was a 2017 survey from David Wilson Homes, which found that 55% of people live within 15 miles of their hometown. I couldn’t find a similar study just for Northern Ireland, but I’d image that percentage would be higher here. Contrast this to somewhere like Seattle, Washington, where I spent some time last year, which has been described as a ‘Transplant City’. Only 3 in 10 adults living in Seattle were born in Washington State. Everyone else moved from somewhere else, either another US state or a different country entirely.

I would consider myself an Anywhere. I was born in Belfast, but neither of my parents grew up there, so I was not geographically close to my extended family. I have fond memories of going to stay with family during the school holidays, it always seemed like an adventure to a totally different place. We also did a lot of travelling, something I am extremely grateful for, which has made me into an adult who is just as comfortable getting on a plane to Hong Kong as I am getting the bus into Belfast City Centre. I just might get a little lost along the way, as I am horrendous at navigating, near or far!

It has been quite an adjustment getting used to small town life. Although this is technically a city, the population is only 16,000 people. It is lovely to be able to walk into town and be greeted by people I know, it makes me feel part of the community. I have church to thank for this, as it is through church that I made friends after moving here and not knowing anyone. No matter where I am in the world, I have always been able to drop into a church and feel welcomed – a lovely illustration of the Kingdom of God in action. In fact, right now as I sit in a coffee shop and type this blog, there are two people from church at another table and we had a nice chat. The challenge is to figure out how exactly I fit into a community where a lot of people have been best friends since P1, and how I can carve out my own meaning in life as a contentedly single woman at an age where many of my friends are married with kids (I’m very happy for them!).

Anywheres and Somewheres tend to look down on each other; the Anywheres view Somewheres as old-fashioned and parochial, whereas the Somewheres view Anywheres as selfish, sacrificing community and familial ties in order to pursue a life of their choosing. But what if we can learn from each other instead? Somewheres teach us the value of community and sense of place; Anywheres teach us how to move out of our comfort zone and form spontaneous connections.

At Café Church last week, we explored Proverbs 16:9: “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” I don’t know what path my life could take, and I find it hard to settle in one place. I might stay here for 2 years, I might stay here for 20 years. I just need to take things one day at a time!


3 thoughts on “Anywhere or Somewhere?

  1. We enjoyed reading your latest blog. We were pleased to note that you have good memories of school holidays spent with family

  2. I’m an anywhere. I wanted to be out and on my own. I have lived in three different cities besides my home city. I grew up in Knoxville, TN and I have lived in Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA, and now I live in New Orleans, LA.

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