Followers of Welsh rugby will be familiar with hwyl. It’s that peculiarly Welsh quality – passion, spirit, national pride, courage, and a sense of belonging. It’s the camaraderie associated with miners and male voice choirs, and choruses of ‘bread of heaven’ swelling up from the old Cardiff Arms Park.
Hwyl may be uniquely Welsh, but it doesn’t define Wales. To suggest that anyone settling there should demonstrate a quantum of it would be absurd, although if you hang around long enough some of it might rub off on you.
Over in South Yorkshire, a consultation has been going on about what makes a Sheffielder. As what some Yorkshire people call an offcomedun, I’ve found this a fascinating exercise.
The aim is to promote community cohesion, which is laudable enough. The method has been to ask a series of questions about the values and behaviours that mark out a Sheffielder.
So, for example, do we agree or disagree that ‘Sheffielders are open, honest people. They are friendly, the sort of people who talk to their neighbours and others they meet’?
Or how about this one? ‘Sheffielders are tolerant people. What unites them is their pride and passion in being part of one Sheffield.’ Let’s try that one at the United-Wednesday derby match next season.
It’s suggested, too, that true Sheffielders should ‘take an active interest in their children’s education’ and ‘speak and write English well’. You’d struggle to find a dissenting voice, but what has location got to do with it?
I’m not trying to knock civic pride, because I value it as much in Sheffield as anywhere else I’ve lived. Neither do I disagree that people should try to be tolerant, neighbourly, friendly and honest. I particularly like the way people in Sheffield almost invariably thank the bus drivers.
But the people who sign up to a set of behaviours and values are likely to be the ones who demonstrate most of them anyway. It’s the ones who are antisocial, racist, abusive and intolerant who threaten community cohesion, and whatever else we call them, they’re as much Sheffielders, Londoners or whatever as the rest of us.
In our efforts to tell a positive story about what our communities stand for, we can’t just airbrush such people out. If we don’t engage with and challenge them, our work is as futile as a quest for hwyl on a wet Monday morning at the Welsh Assembly.
Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine