The value of a community projects by sophie broadbent
We asked our most recent Londoner, Sophie, to write a blog about the experience of running a community project and how it bonds the community together. Her exhibition had such strong ties with what we’re doing with 1000 Londoners, that we felt a blog post would be a great addition to the film.
I never dreamed that getting to know my neighbours would have such a huge impact on my life. It has totally changed the way I feel about myself, and the place I live. I’m so proud of how lovely my neighbours are, and so warmed by how they have embraced the street party and everything that’s come from it. It’s very cheezy, but there’s a lot of love on our street!
Having a bit of ‘down time’ between jobs during the recession in 2008, I decided to find out more about what was going on in my local area and started going to open meetings at the council buildings and joined lots of local organisations – including Transition Town Brixton. This, and my experience volunteering overseas for Raleigh International in 2005, made me think lots about what I could do personally to help tackle the growing environmental issues that are facing us in the world today – and I started to think that living a sustainable, low-consuming lifestyle is linked to being part of a community and sharing resources. I went to endless meetings where people said ‘we could do XXX and XXX’ but I felt frustrated about what I could personally do to be involved, and then I realised that rather than trying to reach people somewhere else – I could simply start on my own street. So, inspired by The Eden Project’s ‘Big Lunch’, I set up our first street party in 2009.
Heading out to knock on my neighbour’s doors to ask them if they’d be interested in a street party was quite daunting the first time I did it – I was completely going into the unknown. But the positive response was overwhelming. Lots of people invited me in for a glass of wine or cup of tea, and I ended up staying for an hour and chatting about the idea and hearing lots about their family. It was fascinating! Since setting it up the first time, the party has taken on a life of it’s own and it is now managed completely by Clemens Schulenberg, an amazing man who is extremely sociable and always happy to make up a flier and hold meetings (over a glass of wine) or parties at his house. We have an email list including about 120 residents which we use to plan the party, as well as help each other find a lost cat or share info. About local builders, etc. We’ve now set up a neighbourhood watch, and we also have lots of other events too – like organised trick or treating for Halloween, and open Christmas parties for the street. Lots of my neighbours tell me that they feel very special to be part of our little community based around our neighbouring streets (three adjoining roads have started a party on the same day as ours now and it’s becoming a mini-festival), and when I pass people on the street now I often stop to chat. When others stop and join in too it feels like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves – which I suppose is what the word ‘community’ means.
I’ve always been fascinated by the contrasting lives that we all lead, separated only by a wall in our tower block or street. My partner, Jamie Lancaster and I have talked lots over the years about how much we’d love to explore that idea through a series of photographic portraits of neighbours in their homes – and then we realised that where we live now has given us the opportunity to make that happen, while spending time with people we love. Each photograph in our collection of 30 portraits features people that we know personally from our time here, and who we feel a strong connection with. They represent a huge mix of backgrounds, ages, gender and culture, and are a historical snapshot of who one might find living on any street in Brixton today – especially if you were lucky enough to live on Thornbury Road.