IN an interview in Woman’s Own in 1987, Margaret Thatcher famously said that “there’s no such thing as society”. What she meant was that we are basically individuals and the things that mattered in life was looking after yourself, and your family.

Of course, there’s some truth to that. Most of us are concerned with our own well-being and want our families to be safe and happy. That is natural, in the North-East as well as every other part of the country. But that’s not the whole story. It wasn’t in 1987 and it isn’t now, in the middle of this pandemic.

We know all about family in the North-East, but we also know about community. Despite the extreme poverty of the early parts of the 20th Century, the villages and towns of Durham always had bonds that tied people together as something more than individuals. For instance, the miners, whom Thatcher called the “enemy within”, had built up a network of solidarity and community throughout the Durham coalfield through their union.

Of course, over many years, some of that community spirit had started to wane, due to the harsh effects of unemployment, industries closing, young people moving out of the area, low pay and poverty. But it didn’t disappear altogether, and we have – once again – seen the best of our communities in the last six months.

Covid-19 has been tremendously hard for all of us. Family members have been cut off from each other; people have been isolated; jobs have been lost and many more made insecure; businesses have been forced to close, and many more are teetering on the edge. I don’t want to dismiss any of that. This pandemic has been extremely damaging for our local economy and people’s mental health alike.

But what it has proved – ironically, considering it has been so difficult to interact socially – is that the community spirit which has been so solid in this area in the past is still going strong. In fact, the more difficult the situation has become, the less people have just been looking out for themselves, and the more people have started looking out for each other.

I have seen a lot of this with my own eyes in the City of Durham constituency. This week alone, I’ve been inundated with offers of help from local businesses and community organisations who want to provide free school meals, at their own expense, during the holidays. They shouldn’t have to do this, but their generosity and thoughtfulness is incredible and makes me very proud to be representing the city and its surrounding villages.

Throughout the summer, members of local community groups, churches and party branches have been collecting for food parcels to go to some of the most vulnerable in our communities, and neighbours have gone to extraordinary lengths to help people who might be stuck for shopping, medicines or other essentials.

It’s been heart-warming to witness this flowering of community spirit. Not only does it prove Margaret Thatcher wrong, but the community efforts that we’ve seen across the North-East offer us enormous hope for the future – that we can come together and work for a better, stronger and more caring world. There is such a thing as society.