Building communities – why bother and how do you do it?
Alison Whybrow of TTK writes:
One of the ways to combat climate change is to build strong and resilient local communities. But - Why would that work? If you get to know them, then you tend to help each other out, looking after the cat when they go away, perhaps babysitting, making an extra portion or two of dinner when your neighbour isn’t well. This reduces the ‘cost’ of living for both of you – to a small degree admittedly, it reduces loneliness and reduces the impact on local services who might otherwise have more work to do. It makes you feel safer.
Marilyn Mason, co-ordinator of Canbury Community Garden, says: “When I first saw the disused bramble patch that is now a thriving community garden in North Kingston, I had a vague idea of what it could be, but no idea at all of how satisfying it would be to work with other people to create something useful out of virtually nothing, and how many lovely, helpful and knowledgeable people I would meet on the way. Experienced community gardeners have been generous with advice and plants; some keen experts on chicken-keeping emerged in the local community and so we now include a chicken collective of 7 enthusiasts looking after several delightful hens; teams of volunteers from local businesses, schools, and Good Gym have enjoyed some healthy outdoor exercise; handy local people have had opportunities to exercise their skills constructing raised beds, compost bins and the chicken run out of unwanted wood and scraps; regular helpers have appreciated eating some delicious fresh produce; Park Brewery harvested our hops for a very local brew; and we’ve all learnt a lot and met and chatted with neighbours that we would otherwise never have come across.”
Take it further, you might borrow your neighbours’ lawnmower, sell your car to someone on the street, freecycle no longer needed equipment from tables, beds, hardly worn clothes, bicycles and more. All reducing the impact on the planet from unnecessary overconsumption. You might even start a garden together, or share cuttings and seedlings, as well as knowledge and tips.
Take it a step further still and shop local, where your greengrocer knows your name and your preferences, where the pet shop will drop off some dog food on their way home from work that evening because you’re heading off on holiday and have no time to pick it up, where you can go to the butchers and buy on tick – because they know who you are. Shopping local with local companies puts more money directly into the local economy than shopping with a national or global brand, this builds resilience at a wider level - ensuring better standards of living for all, reducing the social inequality gap – because the money is there to maintain services.
Building resilience locally means you don’t need the car so much – because more is in walking and cycling distance.
On any street, in any block of flats, you’ll also be amazed at the diversity of professions, practical capabilities and expert knowledge at your fingertips – if only you knew. Having an Orthopaedic Surgeon on the road, a horticulturalist, a lawyer, someone who can teach you to sew, or someone who has a builder in the family all very useful and practically helpful.
And when it comes to climate change – most people are concerned, but often don’t know what to do or whether their actions will make a difference. You’d be surprised how much just knowing that your neighbour cycles to work every day because she cares, can spur you on to do what you can.
When you’ve got a connected community, you can take part in it as much or as little as you like, when you don’t have a connected community – you don’t have that kind of choice.
These are just two stories, there are so many more thriving communities right on our doorstep: Community Brain and Friends of Seething Wells are two examples We’d love to collect your stories of community building, how you got started, what happened next, what it’s like to be part of a thriving community or what community means to you.
“We’ve always been keen to get to know our neighbours, it just makes things easier. We’d lived on our street for five or six years when I started to really get concerned about climate change and the interconnected social justice and health and well-being issues that are part of the whole picture - I decided to get more deliberate. At first, I tried setting up a sharing scheme, but then realised, no one knew each other. So I just popped a note through everyone’s door about doing something together, we started with a street party and it went from there. We have things for all ages happening through the year now, easter egg hunts, fish and chip suppers, a street party, Christmas gatherings, a group of dads that goes down the pub, bulb planting in the verges. We have a yard sale planned. Connected through a WhatsApp group, we share a lot: advice, hints & tips and bits and pieces of equipment, help with projects, local knowledge, when we have furniture and equipment we no longer need or have grown out of, our neighbours often have first choice. People don’t struggle finding a babysitter. Now we’ve got strong relationships up and down the street. It’s grown largely organically with a bit of a nudge and gentle encouragement, people have voted in or out, and give and take as they need to or want to. Low maintenance is key because communities can’t rely on one person. We look out for each other. Our street is 100 semi-detached houses, it’s long, It’s commuter belt territory. I knew we’d started to build something together that made a bit of difference when I met someone at Kingston Carnival and, learning where I lived, they said ‘oh there’s quite a community there’ I smiled” Alison Whybrow