Seeing the crowded shops and pubs, clearly December’s a time for family and friends. Our education marches us through the journey to adulthood in the company of others. It surrounds us with people who become good friends along the way. Then it stops.

We’re adults now. For some, that road opens onto an empty plain. Fellow students move away. It’s not easy to know who you can trust. Real friends are vital and as lovely as rare jewels. Without companions around, people get lonely. A nice smile from someone on the pavement can lift my day. Imagine what a cheerful conversation can do if you haven’t spoken to anyone in days. Loneliness isn’t a weakness any more than, say, insomnia or bereavement. It can happen to you, to anyone.

Of course, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were sold a glittering dream of a seamless slide into a workplace full of witty banter and great guys, the TV sitcom vision of working life. But with bullying bosses, long hours and minimum wages, it often doesn’t live up to the hype. And then there’s unemployment. Put a brave face on that, if you can.

What people really want is sociability, and that’s something consumer products can never deliver. Over Christmas, being alone feels even more acute. That’s why HARC (Homeless and Rootless at Christmas) was set up in Sheffield, providing shelter and meals for vulnerable people. If you can spare time, why not volunteer to help them? People lend a hand with everything from cooking to entertaining. Full details are on their website. The beauty of it is in giving something money can’t buy – a bit of company.

Spending time with others opens the gates to new friendships, projects, fun and laughter. Rewriting the future by creating new forms of organisation has been a feature of Sheffield since at least the time of the Chartists. Regather, for example, was an organisation in search of a co-operative dream back when it started on a quiet street called Club Garden Road. They want to bring back grassroots ‘localness’ in every way, from shared work to food circulation.

At first, people didn’t get it, but now it’s obvious – neighbourliness works. Even better, it’s taking over bits of the local economy. That’s sustainability – people talking, working together on life’s necessities and getting over difficulties together as a community. They don’t teach that in Business Studies.

As Gareth Roberts of Regather points out, for most people life is swallowed by earning a living, covering costs, making a profit. Full stop. Life’s a race, they’ll say, rule number one. But if life’s a race, why are we running to keep up and always feeling poorer? Who owns the race track and who sets the rules? In fact, people can make new rules by getting together and making something new happen.

Regather is there to help people meet, try new ventures or just support by being a customer. They recently started opening for evenings of music, comedy and fun. The local pub, The Beer Engine, also gets more trade. This is the local economy benefiting, and there’s plenty of room for other such co-operations in this grassroots forest of real human interactions. When people really get talking, new partnerships grow into projects that can flourish for years or even generations, harvesting a lot of good along the way – something to think about in the Christmas consumer rush.

harc-sheffield.org.uk
regather.net
alt-sheff.org

Sharrow Festival Xmas Party
11 December | 8pm till late | Cremorne
Celebrate the joys of life and Sharrow with four live acts and three DJs. Bongo and The Soul Jar, Inavibe, The Unscene and Sushi are joined by DJs Dank Zappa, Papa Al and Duncan Emperor of Bling. The £3 suggested donation goes towards Sharrow Festival 2016.
sharrowfestival.btck.co.uk

Critical Mass
25 December | 6pm | Meet at Town Hall

Ever been on a mass bike ride? They’re great fun, on the last Friday of each month. This year that means Christmas Day, so don’t expect masses. Who knows if anyone’ll turn up? Go and find out. If you do go it’ll happen, because it’s a self-organised event.
sites.google.com/site/criticalmasssheffield

Hosted by Alt-Sheff