Diary of a Village Builder part 3 – Getting people together


As regular readers may know, as well as hosting and leading Village In The City I am also engaged in building my own neighbourhood community here in Edinburgh’s West End. As you can read in Part 1 and Part 2 of this occasional diary, we have had some good success in growing our online connection; our Facebook group has grown from 19 members to 1100 over the past year. thanks to leafleting, hard work in behind-the-scenes moderation and building a small team of Facebook admins who support each other.  However, due to the lockdown restrictions it hasn’t been possible to actually get people together face-to-face – until now.

Another difficulty in setting up a group gathering in the pandemic is the lack of public space and outdoor meeting places. In community building circles these are called ‘bumping places’ – spaces where people can not only meet and talk but also bump into one another in unplanned and spontaneous ways.  We have lots of lovely cafes here in the West End but they tend to be rather small and cosy, with very narrow pavements outside which limit outdoor possibilities.

Then, in mid-July 2021, arrived the Don’t Tell Mama coffee stall outside St Mary’s Cathedral, on a grassy area normally used mostly for dog-walking. It was the cathedral’s initiative, and the Greek owners of their coffee shop in Tollcross stepped forward. They clearly invested in the site, with a booth, wooden seating, flowers, umbrellas/sun shades and so on.  It’s a wonderful addition to our neighbourhood, where people can come, meet, chat, bump into one another, see each other, all in an outdoor safe setting.  And Stathis and his team serve up excellent coffee, spanakopita (savoury pastries) and brownies to Westenders, dog walkers, people have earnest chats and those just enjoying the Edinburgh summer.

Our team of Facebookers had a chat and decided to announce a Westenders Sunday Get-together, just to invite folks along to meet each other, buy a coffee if they wished and start to make face-to-face contact.  After a couple of gloomy Sundays when the weather didn’t play ball, we finally went for it on Sunday 22 August. About a dozen Westenders turned out, we all made badges with our names and streets, and chatted for about an hour and a half. A modest gathering for sure, but a start!  Those who came (who had lived in the West End for anything from 4 weeks to 15 years!) all enjoyed it, said how useful it was to have community connection online and also to have a chance to ‘meet the neighbours’.

The cafe is only open during the summer (understandably), and we are planning another get-together in September to take advantage of the facility.  It’s a real boon to the neighbourhood, offering a different way to meet and a different kind of space for us to enjoy our wonderful surroundings.  I hear that the cathedral are having problems with getting planning permission to do it again next year. I hope very much that we can rally around and help convince the council that it’s not just another cafe but a really vital addition to the area over the summer months.



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