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Community spirit is Olympic legacy
Cynics say community spirit in the modern world has completely fizzled out.
But as I took my place on the streets of Hove to watch the Olympic relay pass by yesterday it seemed the torch was not the only fire burning bright.
Despite the gloomy weather, the gleeful crowds waved flags and cheered, taking their opportunity to capture images which will live long in the memory.
It was clear that people were here to celebrate so much more than hopping, skipping and jumping. After all, they knew they would only catch the briefest golden glimpse of the torch as it flashed past.
Instead, they had come out in their droves to show the watching world that they were proud of their community and were prepared to stand side by side in the pouring rain to say it.
Organisers have not needed to splash out on posh gadgets and stages to herald the torch’s arrival.
Instead, Sussex’s splendid scenery has provided all the fireworks needed as the flame passes in front of stunning landmarks like Arundel Castle or the Seven Sisters.
The success of these events shows people still have an unquenchable pride in their community.
Even in tough economic times, people are still prepared to spend time and money to come together.
Of course this was the second occasion this year where people had come out onto the streets to celebrate their towns and cities.
During the Jubilee celebrations in June, neighbours sat outside their homes to chat together, many meeting each other for the first time.
A recent BBC survey found that 22% of English people feel their neighbourhood has become less friendly in the past five years.
Other surveys suggest that between 4% and 8% of us don't know our neighbours at all.
But for one day, people took time out of their busy lives to stop and remind themselves of the importance of belonging to something greater than themselves.
It is vitally important that this spirit is not allowed to sputter out. The Jubilee weekend and the Olympic Torch showed that people still love to get out and enjoy each other’s company.
We should tear ourselves away from our TVs and computers more often. It shouldn’t take a Diamond Jubilee, a royal wedding or an Olympic Games to bring people together.
We need to keep the momentum going all year round by finding more reasons to talk to each other and celebrate our communities. Should we really need national events to push us into becoming proper neighbours? The evidence might suggest that we do.
But pride cannot be manufactured, shown by the failure of Sussex Day to capture the public imagination.
Launched by West Sussex County Council with great fanfare, the day was meant to “encourage people to celebrate the county’s heritage”– but when The Argus hit the streets of Brighton in June, hardly anyone knew anything about it.
Clearly community pride cannot be manufactured.
But neighbourliness comes in many different forms, from chatting at a trestle table over cucumber sandwiches to helping elderly people in need.
These outpourings of pride need to be translated into action, into tangible results for people to be really proud of.
Clearly all people need is a prod to open up and talk to each other - so let’s start talking to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
That could be the true legacy of the Olympic flame, which has given many of the unsung heroes in our community a brief moment in the spotlight.
For the time it takes to carry the torch just 350 yards, their struggles and sacrifices are finally given the recognition they deserve.
With their determination to overcome the seemingly impossible, these heroes embody the Olympic spirit perhaps even more than the athletes themselves.
Take Nigel Wrapson from Worthing. Ten years ago he didn’t think he would walk again – let alone run with the Olympic torch. After breaking his neck in 1999 in a freak swimming accident in Barbados, he vowed to his girlfriend – now wife – that if he made it through he would run the London Marathon.
During his miraculous recovery, which included completing four marathons, he has raised thousands of pounds for good causes. Now Mr Wrapson, whose story has been hidden from view for years, will run with the eyes of Sussex and the world upon him.
The Olympic relay and the Diamond Jubilee has done so much to open up our society.
Let’s make sure when the flame has died down that this community spirit doesn’t close back up again.