MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
It’s the season of street parties and summer fairs, horticultural shows, local fetes and strawberry teas. This is British – and then some. But I wonder if it is more than it seems on the surface – for I wonder if it is part of the answer to many of the ills that beset us today by helping to give a greater and stronger sense of community with our neighbours.
The question of how engaged someone is with their neighbours has huge knock-on effects on their participation in society, level of crime, happiness and even health. For example, there is a direct correlation between how many people you know within 15 minutes walk of your house – and the crime level. The more people you know – thelower the crime rate!
Government can hardly order people to talk to or like their neighbours (you can just imagine the New Labour enabling strategy for how many inter-neighbour verbal interactions per seven day period you must have!). But at the micro-scale I believe there is more that could – and should – be done.
Where communities are blessed with the tradition of community events and the enthusiasm of people to keep them going, that is so wonderful – but far too many miss out. And we all know how much harder it is to start something from scratch as opposed to keeping something already in existence going.
So – for example – I would like to see local councils doing more to help and encourage the organisation of street parties so people get to know each other. We’ve seen with the spread of Neighbourhood Watches how a little bit of an external helping hand can work its magic to unleash the good neighbourliness latent in communities and help create a local organisation where otherwise there was none.
Lots of streets already do have their own street parties – and it does create neighbourliness and bonhomie.Perhaps then we should be having an annual ‘street party week’ to encourage all those who mutter about how nice it would be to know the people in their street to actually get round to it?
Many streets in my constituency hold street parties – and I particularly love the one where each person has the number of their house on a badge. And you hear all the time ‘oh – you’re number 46 – you’re the one with the beautiful roses over your porch’ or whatever.
And perhaps councils should be doing more to help online communities emerge in their areas, through measures like providing easy-to-use and free website and online discussion forums so that anyone can within a few minutes set-up an online community for their street or neighbourhood – and of course click a link to print off some flyers to then distribute to their neighbours?
All small steps in their own way, but better then railing against the fading of the night and simply getting nostalgic for how communities used to be. Rather than moan or reminisce – do something, I say!
(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2008