“45° Change”: What could happen when communities meet institiutions?

I had a very interesting talk yesterday with Colin Miller, an experienced and now retired community developer who leads the Deeper Democracy group. Colin wrote Rethinking Community Practice nearly a decade ago, and is still very interested and engaged in how change can happen in communities and in wider society.  Colin introduced me to the idea of ’45° Change’, first set out in 2017 in a pamphlet by Neal Lawson.

The idea is that change across society cannot be thought of in simple top-down OR bottom-up ways.  It’s not even both top-down AND bottom-up, because institutions and communities work in fundamentally different ways.  The difference is reflected in the ‘institutional triangles and community circles’ way of thinking which we’ve included in our Village Builder course over the past few weeks.  Institutions work with hierarchy to produce goods and services for users and consumers, while communities act in a much flatter horizontal mode of connection and mutual action.  So what happens when vertical institutions meet horizontal communities?  One possibility is that we get 45° Change.

Village In The City is about helping people to develop micro-local communities.  So we’re primarily interested in helping you to grow community organisation in your neighbourhood.  The question will arise, at some point, about how these community groups interact with local government and other institutions which have a role in what goes on locally.  What the 45° Change people led by Neal Lawson, Caroline Hartnell and others have recognised is that this is unlikely to be played out on either the top-down institutional model or the sideways community model, but will very likely have to see new ways to interrelating and working developing as both parties seek to find ways to go forwards in everyone’s interest.

Institutions are not very likely to be interested in giving away their power in the first instance, and so much of the way will have to be forged by enlightened voices on both sides.  Communities and other horizontally-oriented groupings have a leading role to play in developing new ways to work.

You can read a good short summary on the Rethinking Poverty webpage, and download the full pamphlet from Compass, a cross-party group for those who want to build a Good Society.

So – what ways have YOU found to connect with local government and institutions in your neighbourhood?  What’s working? What issues are you finding?

Village In The City… one year on

I started Village In The City at the end of June 2020, during the pandemic lockdown in the UK, thinking that the future was going to be much more local than we had thought before, that I wanted to make my own neighbourhood more community oriented, and that I had skills and expertise in Host Leadership and Solutions Focus which might help – both forme and for others.  It’s now one year on and I’m taking this opportunity to look back and see what we’ve achieved over the past 12 months. And in some ways, we’ve achieved quite a lot:

 

The main point, looking at all these detailed results, is the the idea of a Village In The City resonates strongly with a lot of people around the world.  Indeed, we have villages from four continents on our map so far, which makes this project a really international one.  And people love that – the idea that someone in (say) Bury in Lancashire in the north west of England is facing similar issues to someone in Bulgaria and someone else in Bolivia, and thanks to the magic of online connection they can talk about it together, is very exciting. It’s a kind of paradox – a worldwide movement about micro-local community building.

Our new Mighty Networks community is also helping to facilitate these connections, and also sharing and adding to our resource collection. If you’re looking to actively make a better community in your neighbourhood, do please join – it’s free and you’ll get updates and connections as things develop.

We’ve just welcomed our first Asian community project (in Singapore) to our Villages On The Map. This is a way to show visible commitment to developing your neighbourhood community and you just have to answer a few questions to put your place On The Map too. That gets you access to our private village builder calls to share and learn together.

We’ve had a dozen free calls with experts and people with something to say (and to learn from) about building community. These are all recorded and on Youtube, and are also being edited for podcast presentation (coming out every month or so).  Plus our TEDx talk has reached a wide audience since its release in late 2020.

So, what for the future?  We’re having a break from organising calls and events over the summer, we’re back in September with Nigel Gann on Hospitable Communities on Wednesday 22 September at 4pm.  The very successful six-week Village Builder course will run again in October/November.  And I am working on a short book, working title A Citizen’s Guide to Neighbourhood Building, with Asset Based Community Development advocate Cormac Russell which will see practical elements of ABCD, host leading and Solutions Focus coming together for the first time. And it’s all run on fresh air and enthusiasm – no funding, no grants, no payments, just the pure power of community action as commitment to peers.

We are also looking to expand our core team and volunteer group over the coming months – so if you’d like to get more involved with Village In The City as a citizen of your own village, helping with running the website and social media, developing practical resources, connecting us with interesting speakers and thought leaders, being a liaison in your country or region, translating the manifesto, writing a guest blog, or anything else, please get in touch at mark@villageinthecity.net.

Here’s to the next year of making our lives better, our communities better, our neighbourhoods better and building connection with the people in our streets, blocks and spaces.

New video: Growing your garden AND your community with Kay Walter, Hawley Hamlet

This call featured Kay Walter from the Hawley Hamlet in Lincoln, Nebraska, right in the middle of the USA. Kay and her neighbours have been tending and expanding the community garden for over a decade. What have they done, how are they building inclusivity, community, eco-awareness and even eco-tourism in their patch? Watch the video to find out!  Kay speaks for about 20 minutes with some super slides, and then there’s a discussion and questions.  You can also find this and all our other videos on our Video page.

Podcast #4 is out! The benefits of community with Sanderson Jones

Our latest podcast is out today! I am talking to Sunday Assembly and Lifefulness founder Sanderson Jones about the benefits of community, which turn out to be many, varied, and very well researched and established.  Do have a listen – Sanderson is an energetic and engaging speaker as well as a great friend of Mark’s and a supporter of Village In The City and our ideals of micro-local communities in urban settings (and indeed any settings) around the world.

The podcast is available through Apple and Google as well as on our own podcast site. Or you can just listen here.

 

 

Does your neighbourhood need a notice board?

In this age of Facebook and Whatsapp, Tiktok and Twitter, email and instant messaging, it’s easy to get carried away with the idea of digital communication.  In our first Village Builders course we’ve been talking about build connection, one of the six key elements of the Village In The City Manifesto.  Along with all the digital ideas, the community notice board has come to the fore as a very useful tool for the community builder.

Why? It’s very inclusive, visible to all who walk past.  It’s socially distanced – nobody needs to touch anything.  It’s controllable – usually someone chooses and curates which notices are displayed. It can (with a little effort) be made to look attractive and inviting.  A good notice board needs a little care and attention, but can give an excellent return on getting the word out – to locals and visitors alike.

We found this in Edinburgh – the council has three notice boards which went unattended through the first lockdown and largely featured fading notices about ‘rules of the park’ and what people should not do.  Here in the West End we (or at least my colleague Paul) managed to get keys from the city council to access the boards and restocked them with useful information about local contacts (councillors, MPs etc), local ‘hidden treasures’ like shopping streets and galleries, a link to a downloadable ‘Meet The Westenders’ tour of historical local characters which was devised some years ago and for which the pavement markers still exist.  We also post Community Council meetings and notes, local news from the free sheet and things like COVID vaccination and testing availability. And there is STILL room for the council’s information on trees and birds to be seen in the area. And of course our local neighbourhood Facebook group too.

You don’t need a posh stand-alone notice board to start making an impact.  Often shops will help display posters, and it’s good to look for local ‘bumping places’ where people congregate anyway. A notice board isn’t much use tucked out of the way where nobody looks at it!

Now read this useful and comprehensive blog about notice boards (from a company which makes and supplies them).  And think where you might get the word out in steam-powered and drawing pinned form.

Launching our first six-week Village Builder training – starting Tuesday 25 May 2021

This is a very exciting time for us here at Village In The City – our very first online training for people who want to create and build micro-local communities in their own neighbourhoods is about to start!  The programme runs for six week from Tuesday 25 May 2021, with weekly calls (recorded so you can catch up or review later), a weekly challenge to connect the ideas to your own place, continuing conversation and social learning with both the facilitator (Mark McKergow himself) and your fellow participants, and the chance to meet people like you from around the world who want to tackle the challenges facing us all by starting micro-local.

The programme will help you to:

  • Get inside the six key elements of the Village In The City manifesto for creating effective neighbourhoods
  • Connect with your own neighbourhood in new ways, looking at what’s strong and what’s working as well as how you can help improve it
  • Assess how well your own place is functioning as a community, and get you started on connecting and building in your own street, block and patch
  • Learn about ‘leading as a host’ by bringing people together effectively (rather than trying to be a hero and do it all yourself)
  • Combine some basics about building connection and communication with the latest developments in place-making and the ’20-minute city’ movement
  • Ask lots of questions and share your own know-how, insights and experiences with an eager group
  • Meet people from around the world who are tackling similar situations so we can all learn together.

Although this is the first Village In The City course, we are in very good hands. Mark McKergow, the course facilitator and founder of Village In The City, is also one of the world’s leading trainers and teachers with over 30 years experience of creating effective learning groups. He has been running online courses including the highly successful Solution Focus Business Professional course at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee since 2011. Mark will be leading the course himself, bringing together insights from around the world with his encouraging and appreciative style.

The course starts on Tuesday 25th May 2021 with a Zoom call at 6pm-7.30pm UK time. The calls will continue each week:

  • Week 1: Communication (Tuesday 25 May)
  • Week 2: Hosting (Tuesday 1 June)
  • Week 3: Meeting places ((Tuesday 8 June)
  • Week 4: Inclusivity (Tuesday 15 June)
  • Week 5: Inclusive events (Tuesday 22 June)
  • Week 6: Building Identity ((Tuesday 29 June)

The course will take place within our Mighty Networks site which you will be able to join and access the special course forums and discussion areas.

Booking: Participation in the course (and continuing membership of our online community) costs £69 – nice! – (or $99) including all taxes. This is outstanding value, and supports our continuing work to make resources and support available around the world. However, if you are really not in a position to pay that, there is a reduced rate of £25 available. If even that is unmanageable for you, get in touch and we promise to help you if we can. Please contact Mark directly with ANY questions about the course and whether it’s for you at mark@villageinthecity.net . Booking and registration is at Village Builder course: May/June 2021 Tickets, Tue 25 May 2021 at 18:00 | Eventbrite.

Here’s Mark introducing the programme:

NEW: Village In The City has podcasts!

Exciting news from Village In The City – we have a podcast series!  There are three podcasts online already:

The podcast can be found on Apple and Google already – just use your preferred podcast provider and search on Village In The City to find it and subscribe. You can also listen online by going to our Podcast page.

There will be further episodes released every few weeks.  Of course, if you are subscribed then you’ll automatically get them downloaded to your device.

Eagle-eyed regular readers may notice that these podcasts are edited versions of our calls.  So now you can enjoy them easily and share them with others. What’s more, the music is by UltraSound, a band led by Village In The City founder Mark McKergow nearly three decades ago, and features the sound of his soprano saxophone.  So it’s a win all around.

 

‘Six principles for healthier placemaking’ supports village-level communities

Fred London’s book Healthy Placemaking (RIBA Publishing, 2020) features his six principles for healthier placemaking, ways to create better health outcomes for city dwellers through good urban planning and design.  While many of our community at Village In The City are not urban developers, it is still worth taking a look at these principles and how they support the creation, development and sustaining of micro-local communities – in other words, why our ‘thing’ is a good ‘thing’. The principles are:

  1. Urban planning
  2. Walkable communities
  3. Neighbourhood building blocks
  4. Movement networks
  5. Environmental integration
  6. Community empowerment

The first three relate to scales of planning, in reducing size. Walkable communities is very much on the agenda today, and we’ve covered the 15-minute city movement in an earlier piece. What Fred London does is to emphasise the level below this – the neighbourhood – as the key building block.  Community on this scale can reduce social isolation, nurture community and offer maximum scope for the creation of therapeutic, human-scale environments. He notes that to encourage people to congregate, places need to feel safe, served by easily accessible social facilities and free from the impacts of traffic fumes and noise

The second three elements are about movement networks, again at different levels.  The importance of community empowerment – the way in which citizens can influence how spaces and transport connections are used and integrated – is emphasised.  Initiatives like Incredible Edible, starting in Todmorden, West Yorkshire and spreading around the UK, show how much energy and progress can be created by engaging citizens (not paying them or giving them grants).

This blog provides a good and easy overview to these six principles by Fred London himself – well worth a quick read.

(Hat tip to our good friend Adrian Hodgson for sharing the blog with me)

 

Why we built Village In The City for you

The new online Village In The City community is open and ready to welcome you. Here’s what we’re about:

  • We support and empower citizens who want to strengthen their local community, improving their lives and those of the people they want to serve.
  • We do this by sharing know-how, ideas, good practice and are a community of community builders able and willing to help each other as needed.
  • We believe that inclusive local communities lead directly to better, more positive and meaningful connections, and are inspired by the belief that we can radically improve the lives of the people living on our doorsteps.

What You Should Expect From Village In The City

We’re aiming to make your experience here awesome. We want you to get five key things from Village In The City:

  • Meet people who are also engaged in building their neighbourhoods, to connect, support and share together.
  • Get access to exclusive webinars, calls, support forums and courses to help you expand your skills and horizons.
  • Help bring together new arrivals with experienced village-builders and experts to help you get started and make progress wherever you are starting from.
  • Access our developing resources, handbooks, materials and ideas for your to use and apply in your own neighbourhood at your own pace.
  • Have a place to come to share successes, work on challenges and be with others like you – all over the world.

To make this a reality, we’re going to need your help. Every time you contribute a story, experience, or idea, you’re building a knowledge base every member of this community can tap to make better decisions.

Lets go! Come and join us. 

The Future of Work – and a brighter future for your community?

Yesterday saw the publication of The Future Of Work, a key report created by Nationwide (the world’s largest building society, and a key UK employer) along with Ipsos MORI and many other contributors. Nationwide gathered 30 leading UK organisations to understand what the workplace could look like in a post-Covid world, and used these findings to help shape the report. It looks at how the pandemic has impacted different generations and demographics and how people might want to work in future.

The key conclusions about work are, unsurprisingly, that there will be more working from home than before the pandemic. More interestingly, the report is clear that while many people would like to work from home more, they don’t think their employers will be as keen. Many homes are not well-suited to working, and so a rise in suburban ‘hub’ workspaces might be envisaged. Some ‘office’ time will likely still be required, and younger workers will need this more to build their work networks and relationships. There are also wellbeing challenges from too much Zoom time.

The report has an intriguing section, ‘Revenge of the suburbs?’, on the impact of all this on local urban communities. If people are commuting less, they have more time – up to six week per year more time – to do something closer to home. The report talks about the demand for local services like cafes, delis, gyms and hairdressers increasing (and indeed we have been seeing this in the lockdown already).

This is all great potential for Villages In The City.  If there are folk spending more time in their local neighbourhood (rather than rushing off to town to work), then perhaps they are interested to join in and develop those communities? That’s where we come in.

Ex-commuters often have excellent skills garnered at work, in communicating, working with others, creating graphics and publications, running websites and all kinds of things which they can use to create and help the neighbourhood.  The thing is, getting involved in a community isn’t quite the same as leading a team or running a project at work.  The skills are closely related, but you need to deploy them in a slightly different way and with a different outlook.

For example, creating accurate and rapid ‘minutes’ or notes after a meeting is a good skill.  What’s the purpose of these minutes – usually to hold people to account. That is how controlling organisations or institutions work. It’s in the minutes, and if you don’t do it we will shout at you/ridicule you/look disappointedly at you/mark you down. In helping to lead or participate in a community, there are other ways to encourage people both to commit to taking a (maybe small) action, and encourage them along with support, interest, encouragement and applause. What gets done is more to do with what is in people’s hearts than in the minutes.

If you would like to develop community in your own neighbourhood, Village In The City is here to help and support you, whether your interest has been sparked by spending more time at home in lockdown (as was mine) or whether you’re tuned in already to the benefits of having a network of connections in the streets around you.  We are have a growing bank of resources, experts, webinars, support calls, our own online community and online courses (coming soon) – all for people like you.

It’s easy to start to get involved.

  1. Sign up for information at http://villageinthecity.net
  2. Read our Manifesto and Charter (to see how well it resonates with you)
  3. Join our online community (free) and say hello – we’re looking forward to welcoming you.

Village In The City is led by Mark McKergow, a former itinerant author, coach and consultant who is building community in his own neighbourhood in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The Village In The City project is currently supporting neighbourhoods as far apart as the USA, Austria, Belgium and Bulgaria as well as around the UK. You are invited to join us whether you’re an experienced community builder, just wanting to get started, or a professional with ideas to share. 

How to talk to strangers

Talking to strangers is one thing that many people – including myself – have struggled with in the past.  It IS something you can learn to do better and more confidently.  Gillian Sandstrom of the University of Essex has researched this topic extensively and has an excellent resources page on her website (h/t to Eden Project Communities who ran an excellent online seminar with Gillian recently).

Some of the things that can make talking to strangers difficult at first might include:

  • What to talk about/say?
  • What if they don’t like me?
  • What if I get trapped into a long conversation I don’t want?

Fortunately, there are good answers to all these.

What to talk about

In the UK, the weather is the traditional starting point! This is not really a conversation about the weather though – as anthropologist Kate Fox pointed out in her excellent book Watching The English, this is a traditional and culturally acceptable way of asking ‘will you talk to me?’. It’s more interesting to look at what makes the weather such a good starting point:

  • There is ALWAYS weather – so a remark or question always makes sense
  • It’s a common factor for both of us (if we are in the same place) so some kind of agreement can be negotiated quickly (agreement is a great place to start!)
  • A remark about the weather can be answered in all kinds of ways, from no reaction to a grunt/nod to a more fully formed reply. All these give us different clues about how (or indeed whether) to proceed.

Something in common, something we share, is often a good starting point. Are we both over (or under) dressed for the conditions? Are we both in the line for a concert or movie?  Are we shopping at the same store?  Have we read the book the other is clutching? All these offer starting points.

Another way to start a conversation is to offer help or support to someone who seems to be struggling.  Reaching a high shelf, managing a heavy shopping basket, finding the way… if someone seems to be frustrated or unsure, a gentle offer of help may be very welcome. (Of course, if they don’t want help, that’s their privilege.)

How to build a conversation

Don’t try to impress the other person, show off, or act superior. Much better to take these simple approaches:

  • Smile and look interested! Tons of studies from Dale ‘How to win friends and influence people’ Carnegie onwards show that smiling and attentiveness are big factors in making a good first impression.
  • Encourage people to talk about themselves. Most people love to do this and very rarely find a place and willing audience. And whatever is their experience is their experience, it’s not a question of right or wrong. (And avoid jumping in with your own experience too quickly, especially if it’s very dissimilar to theirs.)
  • Ask for stories, not for facts. Facts are all very well but they are at best just ‘there’ or at worst the source of heated debate. Stories, on the other hand, are much more personal and interesting, and offer all kinds of opportunities to expand and develop. So, ‘how long have you lived here?’ is a fact question (but might be the start of something). ‘What do you like about living here’ is much more interesting and personal, and is a great jumping-off point.
  • Look for similarities, not differences (at least to start with). Points of connection, common interests, similar experiences, are all safe points to build a conversation
  • Ask for advice. This is a great way to build further. What’s a good place to buy paint? When are the recycling bins emptied? What’s a good place for a walk? People love to be asked. (And of course, in the moment you shouldn’t disagree or try to top them.  You don’t have to take the advice, but at least listen politely and enthusiastically.)

Ending the conversation

One of the things that stops people starting conversations with strangers is a fear of being trapped into a boring or tiresome exchange that you can’t get out of. Not to worry – there are plenty of ways to politely but firmly draw things to a close (for now at least).

  • Got to be somewhere Next – an end to the pleasant chatty Now (whether you really need to be there Next or not…)
  • Use the past tense: “It was lovely to meet you” signals that things are ending very soon, without any commitment to future encounters. (And of course you can still have future encounters if you like.)
  • “I mustn’t keep you…”. It is always polite to value someone else’s time highly, even if they don’t appear to.
  • Or simply “Well, it’s great to meet you! See you around.” This leaves all options open for the future. In Scotland, I had to adjust to the way everyone says ‘See you later’ when they don’t mean later, they just mean ‘Goodbye’.

(This section is taken from our Village Builder Handbook, version 4.)  The Handbook is available on the resources page of the website.

Village In The City is a post-COVID initiative to help you build micro-local communications and communities where YOU live.

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Our Contacts

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mark@villageinthecity.net