Diary of a Village-Builder part 2

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.

Meeting places

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.

Inclusive events

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?).

Next steps

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:

  • Inclusivity
  • Communication
  • Hosts
  • 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 mark@villageinthecity.net 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 In The City call: Wednesday 11 November 2020, 4pm UK time – engaging with churches, with special guest Rev Nick Bowry.  More details and registration here.

Next village-building call: Wed 18 November 2020, 4pm UK time – all welcome, email me at mark@villageinthecity.net to get the call link. Hope to hear from you soon.

NEW calls for November and December with Nick Bowry and Cormac Russell

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.  

New Villages On The Map – in Scotland and Belgium

Join our monthly Village-Builders call – contact Mark McKergow at mark@villageinthecity.net for the call link.  Next one is on Wednesday 18 November at 4pm UK time.

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.

What IS a ‘Village In The City’?

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.

Shining a light on community in New Zealand post-COVID – the role of the public sector?

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).

Call #3: Getting your village off the ground with Richard Lucas – recording available now

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.

Improving the neighbourhood – ‘the triangle’ in Dragalevsti, Sofia

News from Dragalevsti, the latest neighbourhood to join Village In The City.  Leah and Elka have been hard at work creating a community garden out of an unloved triangle in the roads of their part of Sofia, Bulgaria.  You can see it in this short video created by Leah’s grand-daughter Aila, who is almost 12 years of age!  Great work from all of them, and I think Hollywood should snap up Aila sooner rather than later… Welcome Dragalevsti to the Village In The City movement!


Rousseau Neighborhood in Lincoln, Nebraska is the second Village In The City!

We are very excited to announce that the Rousseau Neighborhood in Lincoln, Nebraska is the second official Village In The City!  Village Builder Randy Bretz has been hard at work during the lockdown helping to create community in the streets around his home in a cul-de-sac around two miles south of the centre of Lincoln and close to the Rousseau Elementary School.  Randy started coming out in the evening to applaud key workers and found himself making connections with neighbours. A few short months on they are now nominated as one of the ‘nicest places in America 2020’!  You can read all about the story in this article.

Randy says “I truly believe in the Village in the City philosophy. When we get to know one another more than just drive by and wave, we help each other, we watch out for each other, we accept and understand each other better.”  So well said…

It’s interesting that the Rousseau Neighborhood didn’t exist as a name until Randy got to work.  Sometimes Villages In The City are already established, and sometimes (like here) they are borne from a small initiative that just engages people to see themselves in a new way, and as a new place. You too can Put Your Village On The Map, join Randy and the rest of us in learning, sharing, connecting and supporting each other as we create micro-local communities around the world.

Diary of a Village Builder – part 1

Hello there! My name is Mark McKergow, and I started Village In The City in June 2020 to improve my own life, and to help you improve your life too.  My experience in the COVID019 pandemic lockdown was of an immediate connection with neighbours in a new way.  In our street here in Edinburgh’s West End an email list and Whatsapp group sprang up with lots of people joining in, offering news and support and so on. We waved to each other on the doorstep during the NHS clapping. I even gave short saxophone performances (at the suggestion of our neighbours) on Sunday evenings and people came out to listen.

Many people told me that their experience was similar – contact in a new way, mutual support, recognition (even at a distance).  As the lockdown began to ease I found myself wondering about how to extend and build on this connection.  What is the next level up from a street?  A village! It seems to me that much more of our lives will be lived locally in the near future.  Many people are working from home. Getting on public transport involves risk. We have been exercising, walking, shopping locally. So how can we build more connection in our immediate areas? Build a Village In The City.

This is the first in a series of blogs where I will be sharing my own experiences of village building here in my own part of town.  I want to share the learnings, show how I am going about it (and working with others in the process) and show our growing collection of Village In The City tools in action.  The first few weeks have been very interesting…

Edinburgh’s West End, where I live, is a very interesting place. It has been a commercial centre for many years, with beautiful and rather grand Georgian and Victorian terraces mainly used as offices for professional firms. In and around this, there have always been residential occupiers; Scots have been living in staired apartments for centuries, unlike our English neighbours. Recently there has been a trend to firms leaving for more modern office accommodation and their places being taken by residents. My own place is just like this – vacated in 2014, redeveloped and we arrived from ‘down South’ (England) in 2017.

Perhaps because of this commercial history, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of community activity among the residents, at least in our small patch. There are lovely little independent shops and cafes, many of which cater to office workers, and the place is well-known in the city.  So, my first activity was to scan the landscape to see what I could find – the motto being to ‘find what’s working’ and build on it.  I used the six elements of a Village In The City from the Manifesto to help me look around:

  • Inclusivity – not much visible on the surface, I had no idea who lives here
  • Meeting places – nothing much obvious. We have a cathedral which has an accessible open space and may also have a hall. There are some nice pubs and cafes but not sure about meeting spaces
  • Connection – again, not much to be seen. There was however a residents Facebook group with 19 members
  • Hosts – nothing obvious. Hosts are people who bring folk together. This is one area where I have something to offer – I have explored the role and function of good hosts as a leadership metaphor and written two books about it
  • Inclusive gatherings – in the three years we’ve been here, I haven’t seen anything like this. The traders have a Business Improvement District (BID) group which had a classic car weekend last year. They have also developed some nice resources about famous ‘West Enders’, maps of the area etc.
  • Identity – this is one aspect where we are well off! The West End is known through the city for interesting shops, great connections (we have a tram stop named West End so every visitor from the airport passes through), diplomatic activity (the German, Japanese, Russian and many other consulates are right here).

Having had an initial scan, I set out to connect with people who might be interested.  I join the Facebook group, bringing membership to 20, and make a cheery introduction. The admin, Paul, is clearly working hard with news of re-opening shops and other local developments.  I must follow up with him.

I also talk to a couple of local traders.  I have bought art from Paul (another Paul) from Gallery TEN, and happen upon him tidying up as the lockdown starts to loosen.  He is keen to get things moving, and tells me that a lot of the local footfall is driven by some smart hairdressers. People drive in, have a coffee, browse the shops, get some lunch… I also email Michael at Paper Tiger, who I met when I bought stuff at the start of lockdown which he delivered personally(!).  We meet socially distanced on a bench. He too sees the benefit of getting more community and connection with local residents.  It seems Paul the Facebook has also been in touch. We muse about how to reach out to people and he suggests a leaflet through every door. (Part of the art of village building is listening for good ideas!)

Having made a couple of contributions to the Facebook group I reach out to Paul the admin and we have a phone chat.  He is (hurrah!) very keen indeed to build the group and get more people involved. He is up for doing a leaflet too! He drafts some text and I get a graphic design friend to make it look attractive (see image). Paul arranges printing at a local copy shop (good to support local businesses!).  More people have been joining the group anyway, and we hope this will build things further.

Paul also starts putting posters on lamp-posts around the area.  He does this very carefully, noting the location of each one so we can retrieve them at a later date rather than leaving them to rot. Michael has offered to display a poster in Paper Tiger, and Roots deli/café are also keen.  This is a great way of connecting with both workers and residents.  I offer to do a share of the leafleting in my corner of the West End.

It seems to be working… the Facebook group has passed 200 members this week! Paul and Fraser are very active in running it, Fraser is working on a website to get the Facebook posts out to those who don’t use the platform, we have strict membership criteria (you have to live or work here). Many businesses are joining – they too can see the benefit of connecting with residents (who are here much of the time) as well as workers (who probably aren’t) and tourists (vanished).  This may require a careful eye – we don’t want the group becoming an advertising channel.

There are even more exciting developments appearing… I will bring more news as we go along. Watch out for the next instalment.  Sign up for information at


Mark McKergow is an author, speaker and leadership development consultant based in Edinburgh’s West End.  He started the Village In The City project in June 2020.  Find out more about Mark’s other work at http://sfwork.com.


Co-housing: building community in shared space

Richard Lucas of TEDx Kazimierz in Krakow, Poland has joined our Advisory Board (thank you Richard!). He has shared this excellent TED video from 2017, featuring Grace Kim talking about co-housing, an innovative way of building community within shared space.  Richard writes:

“Greetings from Krakow, Poland – This is my first post. I was sharing information about this great project with my TED Circle this evening. with guests from Canada , Germany, Israel, India, Poland, Romania and the USA.  We were discussing Kim Grace’s thought provoking TED talk on co-housing which is a different approach to designing and living with community as a high priority. The links with the manifesto Mark drafted are obvious.”

About the talk: Loneliness doesn’t always stem from being alone. For architect Grace Kim, loneliness is a function of how socially connected we feel to the people around us — and it’s often the result of the homes we live in. She shares an age-old antidote to isolation: cohousing, a way of living where people choose to share space with their neighbors, get to know them, and look after them. Rethink your home and how you live in it with this eye-opening talk.

The 15-minute city: a new picture for urban living

The idea of a ’15-minute city’ is arriving onto the scene from several sources at the moment.  The Weekend FT published this piece by Natalie Whittle examining the idea of having everything you need within a 15 minute radius (walking or by bike) of where you live.  She reports what many people are experiencing: working from home gives a new attention to one’s immediate neighbourhood. This trend has been rapidly accelerated by the COVID pandemic, with French car giant PSA (Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall) moving non-production staff to permanent home working. Carlos Moreno of the Sorbonne in Paris created the idea of the 15-minute city, and is advising Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. Paris is one city which is already experimenting with much-improved cycle routes too, which helps atmosphere and health as well as keeping a local focus. The 15-minute neighbourhood idea has also been picked up by Camden council in London, with this article in Medium. There is also another longer article on Bloomberg by Patrick Sisson.

One point made in the article is particularly relevant to Village In The City advocates and supporters.  Moreno says “we don’t want to recreate a village; we want a create a better urban organisation”. Us too.  One persistent criticism of micro-localism is that it would constrain people to a small area around their houses. Of course, this is not the case.  As cities develop, there will still be things we can’t get within our immediate neighbourhoods. I play saxophone in a big band, and I am unlikely to find a top-class group within 15 minutes walk.  However, what a great basis for a life, to know people around you, be familiar with local suppliers and meeting places, to smile and greet people in the street. Having a life in your village is not an opposite of being active on a wider scale – it’s more of a necessary counterpoint.  It balances our attention, provides a wider network of connections (including cross-generational and cross-demographic) and offers the chance of a rich life on the doorstep as well as on the train or plane.

Want to start building your village? We’re here to help.  Go to our Building Your Village page to find out more.

29 July 2020: Join us for call#2, Village-Building with Lara Celini

On this one hour call Dr Mark McKergow, creator of the Village In The City initiative, will be joined by Lara Celini of Willowbrae, Edinburgh in Scotland. Lara is an experienced village builder and has done a great deal to build community and connection in her neighbourhood, and will share her learnings and experience. Mark and Lara will talk about the initiative, the latest developments and practical next steps you can take right now to build your own Village In The City.

There will also be a chance to ask questions, interact with our other guests, and have a chat about your own village-building ideas and activities.

Sign up to receive details of the Zoom call link. We look forward to welcoming you!

Lara Celini started ‘Willowbrae Community‘ in Edinburgh in 2014, an informal group of neighbours who came together to organise a BIG LUNCH and street party, which turned into an annual event, and led to many other community building events. As well as volunteering in her local community, Lara works for the charity Humanist Society Scotland as their Community Engagement Manager, works freelance as a Humanist Celebrant conducting weddings, baby namings, and funerals, is a Member Pioneer for The Co-op in Edinburgh East supporting local causes, and is an Independent Assessor for Investing in Volunteers.

Dr Mark McKergow is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant based in Edinburgh’s West End village. His work over three decades has been about humanising organisations in learning, changing and leading. He is the co-author of six books including The Solutions Focus and Host: Six new roles of engagement. He has spent nearly two decades researching and writing about the role of the host in bringing people together, and was also the first network co-ordinator for the international Sunday Assembly movement of ‘secular churches’. Mark started Village In The City as a post-COVID initiative to encourage people to build on the micro-local communities which emerged during the pandemic.

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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