Welcome to What England Means to Me

After a brief hiatus What England Means to Me is back!

We welcome contributions from the public. So if you're English, or if you're not English but feel an attachment to England, please come in and take a look around and get in touch via the contact page if you would like to write an essay. If you do not wish to contribute an essay then please feel free to browse and, perhaps, leave a comment.

Thank you.

Pete Kingston

What does England mean to me? I don’t know if I can think of England without thinking of Britain. We are inextricably linked (for now at least), a reminder of our colonial histories. I think England is possibly a country which is not honest with itself; the history of England over the past 100 years is largely the history of Britain, and one of diminishing individual importance on a global scale. I remember being taught about the World Wars at school, especially WW2, but at no point do I remember being told that England went into that war at the head of an empire, about which it had been too ambitious and was overstretched, leading to ever-more compromising treaties. Over the decade(s) following the war we (relatively peacefully, to our credit) largely withdrew, leaving countries to forge their own independence, but settled into a role more suited to our size/population. I think there is a cognitive disconnect, an ignorance about the scale of oppression England and Britain caused across the world – across the largest global empire ever to exist – and the legacy we bear. The British Empire was not a Scottish, Welsh, or (Northern) Irish empire, it was an English empire.

Of course, we were instrumental in the building of European co-operation, which we have helped lead to what the continent and the EU have become today. In many ways, we appear to have reflected on our legacy and tried to prove a force for peace and unity in the world – however in reality I would suggest that it has been done at least as much in the interest of self-preservation, to try to ensure nobody else can wield the power over us which have done over others.

All of this is about England, and Britain, as a nation/nations, and not about me as an English person or my relation to England; I have a simple reason. Nations – as has viscerally been seen as Britain withdrew from India, and from Palestine – are a way to divide people, to exclude people. Geography is no better a way to divide people than gender, skin colour, sexual preference etc etc – it is something that any one individual has no say over. You are born where you are born, and are arguably to different degrees lucky in that respect – and we are free to say it does not define us, most of us have some choice over where we live. And so I take my identity from the largest, most inclusive denomination I can: yes I am from Watford, from Hertfordshire and the ‘home counties’, from the Southeast, from England; but I am also British and European, most of all human, and of the world.

So, what does England mean to me? I do love the country I grew up in, despite all I’ve said above, but to me that country is Britain. England is a community, perhaps a super-community, within Britain, of people who identify with a common shared ancestry and culture, and yet within that commonality there are many more divisions, different subcultures and regional or local peculiarities, all of which add up to make richness – which is enhanced by additions from outside, not diminished. Inclusive Englishness is something I believe in, but also I believe it needs to be outwardly inclusive too; given which, I will always identify as British above English.

Pete Kingston: artist, educationalist, researcher, community facilitator. Working towards – and trying to understand – what is best for all.