Start a Street Association
Make your street your ‘village’!
With the strap-line ‘friendship, fun, belonging, a helping hand’, as Street Association is a really positive contemporary format for bringing people together in real community. It’s small (just your street) and that means that people are actually more likely to be interested (they like to meet neighbours, more than people who live half a mile away!)
So how do I get started?
The recent renaissance of community spirit at the height of the pandemic – and the sense that we need each other and are for each other – means that we are coming to an ideal time to try and give a simple structure to the community spirit that has shown itself and give it shape and the capacity to last.
Something like 100 houses is an ideal catchment area, so on a big street you might split it (and call yours xxxx Road south Street Association, or equivalent).
The best thing to do is to put out a letter like the one shown on this page, and downloadable here, signed if possible by you and a couple of others, inviting people to come and meet over coffee and cakes one evening, with about a week’s notice. The letter has a response device and so you’ll have some idea who’s coming.
Normally, people choose to host it in their front room or in a nearby venue , but an outdoor meeting (perhaps on patch of green under a gazebo), will probably be possible far sooner. So often, people say “I was surprised how nice everyone was”. Maybe 5-15 people will come, with others saying they can’t, but are interested. If you can knock on doors and speak to people (from a bit of a distance!) as you deliver the letter, so much the better. The personal touch works. During the next weeks, the coming Platinum Jubilee will provide a great reason to get together – and then hopefully stay together (rather than a Jubilee party being just a one-off event, with everthing reverting to normal soon afterwards).
When they come, after a bit of chat and getting to know each other, suggest the idea of a Street Association and talk about what you might all do together – e.g. organising to find out who has needs and who can help them; collect lots of contact details and maybe start a Facebook or WhatsApp group for the street. A Jubilee street party would obviously be a great start (see here for more detail about what’s involved). Later, you could organise a coffee morning, watch a movie together, put on a Christmas party, a picnic, quiz evening, fish and chips supper, a kid’s activity in the park, barbecue, etc. Get a date for the first one and share tasks (such as producing a leaflet, bringing food, talking to neighbours, etc). Then you’re airborne!
Window stickers (also usable as car stickers) can be downloaded. It’s good to hand them out at the first meeting and ask people to put them up ‘tonight’ so that the street knows something is happening! They look like this:
A piece of advice:
These things require persistence. Often, there’s plenty of good will but the turnout can be small (some being busy, or having a sick child, away, forgetting, etc). People do lead busy lives. But, over time, it makes a huge difference to any street. Neighbours literally (as the song goes) become good friends, there’s smiling and chatting, kids grow up in a safer environment – and there’s a supportive network for more elderly or vulnerable neighbours, who often want contact but ‘don’t want to impose’. And community is fun! So, do persist. Some events will go swimmingly, others will be small. Even then, what’s wrong with a handful of people coming together and getting to know each other?
Right now, with the pandemic having in a sense separated people, but in another sense brought us all together, it is actually a wonderful time to start putting something in place so that a growing sense of togetherness is not lost, but is embedded for the future. The danger is that it will be lost if nothing is put in place to preserve it. A Street Association is the ideal vehicle to ‘lock in’ what was best about the ‘lock down’!
Would you like to know more?
There’s much more on this at www.streetassocations.org including a video you can play at the first meeting. There’s also advice and support from the Street Associations team.
Street Associations tend to be informal and not constituted organisations and, as such, are essentially informal gatherings of friends and neighbours. A vibrant community, in which everyone knows everyone, is in fact a great defence against any kind of abuse, which tends to flourish in an atomised and anonymous sort of society.
However, even gatherings of neighbours (like all relationships) carry risks that vulnerable people might be exploited and care needs to be taken to avoid situations in which abuse of any kind could happen. In particular, Street Association activities which involve children should always be undertaken in the presence of their parents or guardians. An event for the whole street, gathered together in one room or area, is generally the safest option.