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.



Join the Celebrating Communities ABCD online Jamboree! Tuesday 7 September at 10am UK time

We are thrilled that Village In The City is part of the organising and hosting team for Celebrating Communities – the second UK Asset Based Community Development Jamboree! This free online event brings together the latest and best in ABCD work, this time with a Scottish focus, as we welcome ABCD community members and practitioners to gather to support each other, connect, get new ideas and applaud successes and learning.  It’s on Tuesday 7th September 2021 at 10am – 12.30pm UK time.

Places are limited. Register now at https://celebratingcommunities.eventbrite.co.uk.  

And yes, Mark will be there as a host, along with Leah Davcheva who will give a short presentation about her work in Sofia, Bulgaria.  And lots of other great ABCD folk.

Building Stronger Communities Through Critical and Compassionate Schooling – 24 August 2021

Earlier in the year we were delighted to host Dilia Swart and her colleagues from Protection Approaches as they spoke about community building as a route to tackling identity based violence.  Dilia has been in touch to say that they have a new report being launched at an event on 24 August 2021 about the role of critical and compassionate schooling.  She writes:

“I am reaching out to share with you that on 24 August we will be releasing our newest publication called Building Stronger Communities Through Critical and Compassionate Schooling.

I thought that you or members of your network might like to join the online launch event of the paper on the 24th of August at 4pm BST. The event will be chaired by Gráinne Hallahan, Senior Analyst at Times Education Supplement. The conversation will open with my short presentation of the paper’s main findings. Kavita Tanna, Director and Founder of Globally Reconnect, and John Murphy, CEO of Oasis Community Learning will then respond to the report and discuss how schools in the UK and elsewhere can prioritise critical and compassionate schooling. A Q&A will follow.

You can register for the event using this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ug-m12SiQ1mMAFvLmzlWnQ

Drawing on over two years of research in and with schools this new research paper sets out how schools and schools-based education can confront some of the greatest crises we face, from social polarisation and rises in identity-based violence to the growing challenges of fake news and conspiracy.

There is widespread demand for education systems to be able to prioritise the skills young people need to respond to our new and often complex reality, from democratic backsliding to climate change. This paper sets out a low-cost, high-impact vision for schools, civil society, and government to equip young people with the tools they need to navigate these crises, to develop the confidence to participate in society, and contribute to the long-term resilience of the UK to ongoing and future challenges.”

This is going to be an excellent event – please do join if you can!

“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)


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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