James Mayes

The art of community – a case study

In Community, Personal on December 20, 2010 at 1:15 pm

As part of what I do, the topic of community comes up regularly.  Many people have strong opinions on the subject of community-building, myself included – but that’s one for another time.

As we draw into Christmas, I wanted to share with you an insight into my local community.  I believe it’s a rare thing in modern times, so perhaps best if I offer a little detail on location,  history and current status.  This is all by way of scene-setting, before I get on to the useful stuff: why this community works.

So, I live in a small town (around 100,000 people) on the South Coast of England.  The community I’m talking about is a very small subset of the area, limited to maybe five or six roads around my house.  In its formal sense, the community started around 2002. A number of people who’d met on the school run, or just through saying Good Morning in the street decided to try to join in with the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations and hold a street party – close the road, lay the tables out, get to know your neighbours.  This was all before we moved into the area. The street party concept was again explored in 2007, which we believed to be the centenary year for most houses. Take a look at the photo (taken from the top of a fire truck’s ladder) you might see some period Edwardian outfits.

The Big 100

The community spells it out.

As I understand the history, a Resident’s Association was formed, and continues to this day (I’ve served time in a number of committee posts over the last few years, last year as Chair). The community spirit is the driving part though, with the formal association always available as a useful mechanism to organise certain events.

It’s been of huge benefit to the neighbourhood over the past few years.  The level of support available to young and old is excellent, the collective voice more able to be heard when needed.  The intention here though, is to look at precisely why this community has endured. I hope these observations are of value to you.

  1. Very little is mandated.  There’s a newsletter, which you need to join the association in order to receive – but beyond that, the level of engagement is entirely at the discretion of each household (and in some instances, each family member!). True community is opt-in, not opt-out
  2. The activities aim to offer something for everyone – young and old, indoor and outdoor, etc. Cater for your audience
  3. As with most groups, there exists a core of people who are especially generous with their time. Communities thrive around a passionate heart
  4. While an organisational committee operates, efforts are made to ensure regular change in personnel – partially because people have other commitments they must attend to and partially to maintain momentum and bring through new ideas. Don’t just accept change, encourage it
  5. Social media is utilised in the form of a private Facebook group –  but it’s not heavily used as people are so close. Don’t over-engineer the solution

I said earlier the neighbourhood benefits from the community approach.  In case you’re pondering that point, a few examples:

  1. The formal Association is recognised by the local council and is able to get it’s voice heard on matters such as planning permission. Strong links have been formed with the local police, improving the safety of the area.
  2. A strong support network exists which has helped numerous people over the past few years – small issues like leaky pipes, or more testing times such as the fraught few weeks when a new baby first comes home.
  3. The social scene is spectacularly robust with events ranging from camping to skittles, open gardens to cycle rides.
  4. The younger and older children get to know one another far better, not just associating with their own age group at school. For the parents, this has the added benefit of a trusted baby-sitting network for those evenings out!
  5. The event that sparked this post – Christmas carol singing, yesterday evening.  Held on the driveway between two houses with mulled wine, hot chocolate, an assortment of musicians and an age range for those in attendance of at least 60 years.

I think this’ll be my last blog before Christmas – so I hope you all enjoy the festive season. I’ll leave you with this message. The singing is truly awful, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything.


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