Our March 2021 call is now online and booking. Dilia Swart from Protection Approaches in London is joining us on Wednesday 17 March 2021 at 4pm UK time to discuss her work in using community development to address identity-based violence, whether that be motivated by ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion or political affiliation. More details and registration are now available for this free call at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/safe-strong-cohesive-communities-with-dilia-swart-protection-approaches-tickets-141118103045.
We’re delighted to have a guest blog from Richard Lucas, our roving ambassador and Advisory Board member who has been a TEDx organisers for many years. Richard is very interested in creating informal spaces for interaction, and helped introduce us to Jenny Bimpson and the Chatty Cafe Scheme. Jenny was our guest in call #7, and you can see the recording here. In this post Richard explores the concept of common dining tables in restaurants.
What’s the idea?
The idea is to have a table in restaurants/eateries that are designated as being the table at which one sits if you want to eat with other people you don’t necessarily know.
It would be good thing – in line with mission of Village in the City – as such tables would have the potential to build community, and increase social interactions. Eating together is a fundamental activity, a sign of friendship, trust and hospitality in every culture I know of. Eating alone is a wasted opportunity.
This idea of common dining tables in restaurants is inspired by the Chatty Café Scheme set up by Alexandra Hoskyn, as described in her TEDxKazimierzWomen talk and on their website. At a chatty café a table is designated the “Chatter and Natter table”. If you sit at this table you are signalling that you are happy to talk to strangers. Signing up on the website means that a café can be found by people who want to use it.
This simple idea has spread far and wide, and the reason is obvious. Normally people feel a bit awkward and have a fear of rejection if they approach a stranger for conversation. The table removes that friction people feel in approaching strangers, by giving “prior consent” in both directions. Thanks to the way that Alex and Jenny run it and support the cafes – it really works.
What about Common dining tables? The idea of having a common dining table in a restaurant is very similar, and is not new. A London club “The Garrick” has one, In Nebraska in the USA, there are tables in some restaurants and if you hunt you can find them, but…. There are challenges.
What is different?
A meal needs a start and stop time to much greater extent than a café does. A restaurant owner doesn’t want a large table with only some people eating. A meal doesn’t need a host but benefits from one, to welcome people as they arrive to, to maintain the right culture and standards, keep things moving a long, make sure that things work smoothly.
My concept is to test the concept by talking to the most suitable eateries in your locality. If they are open to the idea (and they should be, as they should make money) suggest that there is a regular community meal, with a simple signup process. Make it clear that to your local VITC group this can be a regular item in the calendar if it is popular enough. The first Monday of the month for example, and then if it is popular extend to other days.
There would be guidelines for hosts, making sure that the dinner is welcoming for people who don’t know anyone, having a seating plan to make sure that people sit with people they don’t know, having name badges. Depending on the locality and the management this could become more regular.
An obvious challenge is not to exclude people whose finances are not up to bringing their family along, but maybe there could be some kind of buffet/reception deal which brings the cost down? Or in summer organise picnics as an alternative to meals. This idea cannot address every problem.
If this works then I would create a website, and, like with the Chatty Cafe scheme, a modest charge to provide support and hosting so that the restaurant owner didn’t have to worry about making it all work smoothly and those showing up know what to expect. There would be plenty of details to iron out (should there be a set menu against individual choices, how to handle “no shows”, keeping things simple to organise, a code of conduct. How to get the balance right between serving locals and tourists.
If anyone reading things wants to do a pilot, I’m more than happy to have a chat about helping with a test event to see how it goes. Contact me at richardlucas #at* richardlucas.com, through VITC, and find me on Linkedin and Facebook.
In its key list of articles about what’s coming in 2021, Fast Company says that ‘The office as we know it is over… and that’s a good thing‘. The piece says that alongside workplaces becoming more equitable and companies becoming more resilient and productive, we can also hope to be seeing cities and towns becoming more liveable as a result. We think they’re right.
Part of the result of a move to ‘remote-first’ working, where work from home becomes a default and trips to the office are an occasional treat/imposition (depending on how you look at it) is that people will be spending more time, and giving more attention to, their neighbourhood. It won’t just be a place to sleep and catch the train any more, it will be the place where people spend their time and money to build a better life.
We are already seeing this move happening, albeit with some reluctance, in the pandemic lockdowns of course. What happens when the office-workers of yesterday don’t have to spend an hour or two on the train or in the car? They have more time to enjoy and enhance their lives where they live. And because it’s the place where they now work, rest and play then it’s well worth getting involved to start making some small yet potentially significant things happen on your block or in your neighbourhood.
Village In The City is here to support people who want to make their lives and their communities better, want to do it in a way which draws on what we know already and helps them to share the journey with other like-minded folk around the world. Get started by putting your neighbourhood on the map and joining our international community of ordinary people doing quite ordinary things – to make an extraordinary difference to themselves, their families and their neighbours.
We had a super discussion with Jenny Bimpson about the Chatty Cafe Scheme, how it came about, how it works, how it’s expanding and all kinds of other ways to gently help strangers to connect in urban settings. The call recording is online now.
Village In The City found Mark McKergow gave a TEDx talk at the end of 2020 for TEDx Kazmierz in Krakow, Poland at the invitation of Richard Lucas. It’s now online and you can watch it here! Mark talks about how he came to start the project as a response to the COVID pandemic, how things began in his own street in Edinburgh, Scotland, why his particular know-how and experience of leadership, coaching and community build are relevant, the creation of the Manifesto, and how things have already spread to Europe and North America. 10 minutes packed with insight, innovation and inspiration. Watch it now.
The Carnegie UK Trust are always at the forefront of creative thinking about the future of society and improving wellbeing. Their recent report Building Back for the Better (2020) is admirably clear in outlining six propositions, all based on the Trust’s decades of research, about how ‘Building Back Better’ can not just be a catchy slogan for the post-pandemic world but can actually be delivered in the medium term. These six propositions are:
- National wellbeing can be the goal
- The relationship between citizens and state can be reset
- The future can be local (as well as global)
- Our relationship with work can be remodelled
- We can build a new level of financial resilience
- Technology can be for all.
I think that an initiative like Village In The City can help with all of these rather lofty-sounding goals. Indeed, making these things live and breathe at a micro-local level is key to their meaning much at all. My career in solution-focused consulting and coaching has been all about helping people turn their hopes (I’d like to feel better…) into small and meaningful signs and steps in their everyday lives. Let’s see how a similar strategy might be useful in connecting micro-local community development with these six propositions.
- National wellbeing can be the goal
This shift in attention from merely financial goals (Gross Domestic Product etc) to a more overall focus on wellbeing is already being championed by the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, of which Village In The City is proud to be a member. We envisage a future where the economy serves society – rather than the other way around. The Reith Lecture by former Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney is very good on this point, as is the recent Carnegie report on Gross Domestic Wellbeing. So much vital work in a healthy society is not primarily economic – community building, neighbourhood relations, helping others, building resilience all happen primarily through people rather than money. Creating a healthy society comes first through people acting together, and for each other. Yes, money can help – but if people stop caring or participating if they are not paid, then that’s not really very sustainable.
- The relationship between citizens and state can be reset
The Carnegie report talks about moving towards an Enabling State, where the state acts to enable and facilitate the actions of citizens rather then either prohibiting them or trying (and failing) to do it for them. This also requires efforts to level up social capital; the amount of enabling may need to be greater in some areas than others, with focused seeding of opportunities and skill-building. It also involves making sure that people know they have permission to act. (We could argue that they already have it, but sometimes it’s easier if things are clearly understood.) The report also talks about supporting people to participate fully (not the same as participating for them) and building in radical kindness. Our core commitment to inclusivity points in this direction, and we will be exploring the notion of radical kindness and its predecessor radical acceptance in the near future.
- The future can be local (as well as global)
The UK is the most centralised state in the G7 and one of the most centralised in Europe, says the report. The heart has been ripped out of local government here since the Thatcher years of the 1980s, and even though UK devolution has made a dent in this policy at a high level, the extent to which local communities can raise finance and make their own decisions is very limited. This must change. However, at Village In The City we are less concerned with local government and more focused on redressing the global/local balance. 50 years ago we could telephone people internationally (at great expense). 20 years ago the likes of Skype were appearing, offering jerky video and unreliable connections. Now in the Zoom era we can talk to and see just about anyone on the planet at a moment’s notice. That’s amazing. And, it means that it is even more important that we also talk to the people who live within a couple of hundred metres of us. We share the same piece of ground, and that gives us something important in common, irrespective of differences in age, politics, outlook, background and so on. The future is both global AND micro-local!
- Our relationship with work can be remodelled
The pandemic has seen the most dramatic reshaping of expectations about work since the industrial revolution. Rather than slogging in to office workplaces reflecting factories, many people have tasted working from home for the first time. This has some drawbacks; not every home is well suited to work, it can feel like ‘sleeping at work’, and creative interactions can be more challenging. However, working from home, or perhaps from a local shared workspace, has huge advantages in terms of connections with family and local community. While the city centre coffee shops are struggling, those on suburban high street have never been busier. It seems most likely that greater flexibility about working away from the office will become the norm. In terms of local communities, that makes for some good people with time and effort to spend on their localities, and new opportunities for more widespread provision of entertainment, connection and activity as part of a commitment to a ‘15-minute city’.
- We can build a new level of financial resilience
There are moves afoot to explore things like universal basic income and other ways to help people not fall off the bottom of the financial security ladder. Village In The City quietly supports these initiatives. However, we are more focused on helping to build very local resilience by putting people in touch with each other in ways that enable sharing of resources and skills. Perhaps you don’t need to spend money on a ladder if you can borrow one from along the street? Perhaps you can offer some skills or effort in exchange for time from others (timebanking). Financial resilience is part of a wider societal support.
- Technology can be for all.
Digital inclusion is as important as social inclusion – online provision of services is a key way in which regional and national infrastructure can be delivered to all, as well as shopping and entertainment. Technology can also play a part in facilitating local connection and community, as witnessed by local websites, Facebook groups and so on. This requires developments in both broadband services, the availability of devices to access it, and also improved online security – helping people engage digitally is a matter of them trusting the systems as well as simply being able to access them.
At Village In The City we are championing bottom-up initiatives, often simple but effective, carried out by community members. In his book Rekindling Democracy, Cormac Russell talks about the importance of this kind of work, where the local community is in the driving seat and professionals come in from time to time, when invited, to help with specific elements. Anyone can be a village-builder, whether your local community is well-established or as yet invisible. Come and join us to play a part in building back better.
Cormac Russell is joining Mark McKergow for the next Village In The City call, Wednesday 9th December 2020, at 4pm UK time. Join us free and hear more about how bottom-up community development is the way forward.
More news from my activities in Edinburgh’s West End. Part 1 of this diary had me getting started here by making contact with a Facebook group, helping to promote it and starting conversations with residents and traders. That was at the start of August 2020, and the Facebook group had 200 members. It’s now mid-October and our Facebook group has grown to around 650 members! This is great news – we have definitely reached a critical mass in terms of being a known presence in the area, and people are continuing to apply to join every day.
It’s been very interesting to see the group evolving from its original 19 members in June. Here are some things I have learned having been a moderator and admin for the group in that time.
- We’ve been very clear that it’s for local residents, workers and businesses, and we only accept membership requests from people in those categories. We ask specifically where folk live/work in the West End when they join. My colleague Paul has worked very hard on contacting people who don’t seem to be here, to clarify the situation. We have had requests from as far afield as Australia! It seems to be a good thing to be clear, specific and rigorous on the membership.
- We have had good success with a ‘photo of the month’ competition. We encourage members to post their photos of the area, and one of them gets selected (by the group admins) to be our header photo for the month. And of course all the pics can be seen in the group. This month’s pic is a dramatic shot of a local square by a 15-year-old photographer! (See it on the right.)
- A lot of local business understandably want to be present and promote themselves. We are OK with this as long as it’s specifically written for locals, stresses the neighbourhood aspects and is not too frequent (one or two a month, no more). What we don’t allow is thoughtless reposts, banner ads, regurgitated material from elsewhere. It’s a balance we are learning and most of our members seem to have the hang of it. For those that don’t, their posts are moderated and deleted.
- We had a admins meeting in August (outside and distanced of course!) and sat around to have a chat in person, say hello, talk about future developments and ideas. This was very useful to get to know each other. We have since added another moderator to share the workload and enable quick responses if the others are tied up (thanks Stevie!).
Another aspect of connection is to use the public channels available. Paul has been touch with our local council, and as a result I now have keys to the official notice boards! These had been unopened for months due to the pandemic, and the department who looked after them have been dissolved in a reorganisation. I have tidied them up and create some new information pointing people to local shopping areas, beauty spots and hidden parks, adding QR codes so that visitors can immediately get more information on their phones. ‘Notice board monitor’ sounds like something you might be at primary school, but it’s certainly another way of getting information out to locals and visitors alike.
This is one area where the West End has not been historically well served. There is little in the way of traffic-free spaces that is publicly available outside, apart from a well-used grassy area by the cathedral for exercising dogs. Our local traders were planning an outside market there in August but sadly it fell through due to licensing restrictions. We’ve had more luck on the ‘inside’ front though – one of our local bars has offered a space for a monthly ‘newcomers meet-up’ with wine and snacks which is super and very generous of them. It’s a shame that our current COVID restrictions prevent them opening at the moment… Indeed, we are not permitted to meet up other than in very small two-household groups in cafes right now, so any kind of physical meetings are off the agenda. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t offer things to get folks working together – see the next section.
We had plans for an ‘open weekend’ around the end of September/start of October to encourage people to get out and about. In the end this didn’t feel right with an uptick in COVID cases, so it was shelved. One thing we have put into place is a ‘Treasure Trail’ walk, a self-guided expedition taking around 90 minutes with a downloadable/printable instruction sheet. It was written by a local Blue Badge guide and is aimed at family groups to do together as a way of getting out and exploring the area. The route points out local cafes and shops as well, to try to create a bit more trade in these difficult times. Local businesses have offered some prizes, and it’s in full swing at the moment. At least it’s a way to encourage people out into some part of our patch they might not visit normally (who knew there was a cathedral music school hidden away?).
It feels like we are already in a much more engaged and involving place then in June! I am thinking about getting some local conversation going around the six elements of a Village In The City and getting more views on where we are, what we have and what folks might contribute. These elements are in the Manifesto and are:
- Meeting spaces
- Inclusive events
- Identity – what makes this place special?
Interested to help your own ‘village’ to be a better place? Join me on our new monthly calls for new and existing Village-Builders – whether you are new to this and want to make your life and your place better, or whether you’ve been doing it for years and want to share your experience and pick up a new idea or two. The first will be on Wednesday 18 November 2020 at 4pm UK time. Register free by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org to join in and we can talk village-building. Whether you’re new to it (like me) or been at it for years, I’d love to talk with you.
Next village-building call: Wed 18 November 2020, 4pm UK time – all welcome, email me at email@example.com to get the call link. Hope to hear from you soon.
We are very excited to announce our calls for November and December 2020, with two excellent guests.
On Wednesday 11 November at 4pm UK time we’re joined by Rev Nick Bowry to discuss how to engage with churches in your area. Churches can seem a little off-putting to the outsider, with all the robes and traditions. Nick is a passionate and inclusive community builder as well as a minister with the Episcopal Church of Scotland, and he will be helping us to understand how churches can help (and indeed are often very committed to) engaging with others. He is one of our regular participants too! Register here to join the Zoom call.
Our December call is on Wednesday 9 December, again at 4pm UK time. This is a very special call where we will welcome community developer and passionate citizen advocate Cormac Russell. Cormac is an expert on Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) and will be helping us understand how bottom-up citizen-led work not only helps to develop your Village In The City, but also leads to more democratically empowered and connected places. Cormac’s excellent new book is Rekindling Democracy – well worth a read. Register here to join this call.
Want to be a Start-Up Village – you can! Just complete this very short Google Form and we will be in touch and add you to our map.
Our movement is growing with two new villages on our map! Willowbrae on the east side of Edinburgh in Scotland is led by Lara Celini, an inspiring village-builder who has been making connections and organising since around 2014. Lara was the guest on our second call, describing what she’s been doing – it’s well worth a watch.
We also have our first start-up village, led by Anton Stellamans in Winksele, Herent in Belgium (just outside Leuven). Anton says:
For six years we have organised a get together in our village (Winksele) every other Friday, starting end of July and ending mid September. We simply announce it through 3 blackboards, posted across our village and on 2 village facebook groups. We set up a couple of tables and chairs. From 6:30 am a host is present. The villagers that come bring something to drink and/or eat and everything is shared among the participants. Occasionally someone brings a petanque set along to play with those who feel like it. The number of participants varies from 20 to 50. All generations are present, from babies to 90 year olds. Fascinating to listen to them (the old ones, not the babies). We encourage people to invite their neighbours especially if they moved in recently in our village.
The initiative came from three members of our village committee, which already had a tradition of organising 3 bigger events every year: one is the “Cake on the square” where everybody shares a dessert, the other one is “Together on the streets”, open air bar + street theatre, and the 3rd one is a new year’s drink.
You can see some of the Winksele summer get-togethers on the right.
Anyone can put your village on the map and join the project! If it’s just you so far, be a start-up village by completing this very short Google form. If there are already three or more of you, complete this form. We will be moving towards having members only resources and events soon, so it’s a great to time to get involved.
I am often asked the question ‘so, what IS a ”Village In The City’? Village-Builder Randy Bretz from Nebraska has got his teeth into this question, and has produced this very helpful short definition which draws together elements which have emerged so far:
“A Village in the City is a micro-local community where YOU live. It could be a single block, several nearby streets, an area around a park or village built around a small shopping district in your city. The usefulness and resilience of these very local villages has become increasingly clear. These communities build trust, provide mutual support and friendship, and create more resilience both to tackle current challenges and improve our lives right now.”
I think that is an excellent encapsulation of what we are seeking to encourage, promote and support. It doesn’t have to be big, or formal, or high-profile.
One of our village-builders was asking me about the difference between a cohesive group of neighbours and a Village In The City. I would say that the quality of ‘inclusiveness’ is important. We’d prefer it if the cohesive group of neighbours was reaching out and attempting to include everyone in their area. Of course, in the early stages there will be some who take a greater interest and role in getting things moving, and as time goes along there can be different initiatives, events and communications to get to others.
Does it have to be a formal organisation? No. Does it have to be in a city? No. I think our village building tools could well be used even in conventional villages in the countryside.
The first of these tools is our Village Building Handbook. It’s available now in version 1.1 for free download, and contains masses of ideas and strong strategies for starting to promote even more micro-local community where you are.
Village In The City was formed as a post-COVID response, to help and encourage micro-local community and connection which had started to appear during the lockdown periods. Others have also seen the potential for this kind of community impact. This excellent essay about how the pandemic has revealed the power of collective action in New Zealand is written from this perspective – it’s well worth a read.
The authors identify one possible issue as the role of public authorities, local councils etc in micro-local action. They write:
“The public sector could change its view of itself and operate as the “backbone” to support community organisation – a steward and facilitator, rather than a decider and enforcer.”
I think this is a key issue in how we can encourage things to grow. Village In The City is about helping bottom-up community builders start to take action to improve their communities and enhance their own lives as well. Nobody needs permission to do that. But as things develop, getting a supportive relationship with local government can help (or indeed hinder, if the council places its own ideas above those of the actual community). My tip for village-builders right now is to get on with doing what you can; the council are more likely to listen to a growing and well-motivated group than they are to a few individuals. We are doing this in Edinburgh’s West End right now, beginning to make overtures to the authorities for involvement in their processes, having built our local Facebook group from 20 to 570 people over the past three months. Go slow. Ask the authorities to help you (and offer, where you can, to help them) – act first, then build from there.
Now read the article at https://thespinoff.co.nz/partner/te-punaha-matatini/27-08-2020/collective-impact-shining-the-light-on-community-post-covid-19/. (H/T Rayya Ghul for pointing me to the article).
Village In The City is a post-COVID initiative to help you build micro-local communications and communities where YOU live.
On this one hour call Dr Mark McKergow, creator of the Village In The City initiative, is joined by social entrepreneur Richard Lucas. Richard is a serial connector and idea-builder and also leads TEDx Kazimierz in Krakow, Poland. Richard and Mark talk about the initiative, and ways you can get started to connect with people and build inclusivity for your Village In The City. How do you get your village started? How can you engage everyone, not just ‘people like us’?
We also revealed the simple process to Put Your Village On The Map and become part of our community.
View the recording now.