NEW video: Hospitable Communities with Nigel Gann

How welcoming are our communities – really? How can we make neighbourhoods welcome ready – whether that’s for people from the next neighbourhood or folk arriving from around the world? These are some of the questions addressed by Nigel Gann in our latest video call on Hospitable Communities.  Nigel leads the Lichfield chapter of the City of Sanctuary movement, and he is working with the citizens and local government of this (mostly) resolutely white place to build more of a welcome for newcomers.  With refugees arriving from Syria and Afghanistan as well everyday movements of people around the country, this is a challenge in which we can all play a part. Watch the video now.

You can also join our community where we’re discussing this topic (and others) in our online community and during our monthly Village-Builder calls. Open to all, free to join.

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.

 

 

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!

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.

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. 

Plant a Gratitude Tree in Your Village

This week we have a guest blog from Randy Bretz, one of our village-builders from the Rousseau neighbourhood of Lincoln, Nebraska, right in the centre of the USA.  Randy started to connect with people in his street during the pandemic of 2020, and is always on the lookout for simple yet warm ways to help his neighbours connect.  

At first, they fluttered in the wind by themselves, the two notes of gratitude. From a distance they almost looked like autumn leaves. Then, perhaps acting out of curiosity or even some sense of obligation, people began to jot their thoughts down on the tags provided and hang them on the tree. During the late summer of 2020, as we tired of the quarantine and began to venture from our homes, our neighborhood hosted a Gratitude Tree and it helped us all focus on what we were thankful for instead of being angry, afraid or annoyed by our fear of the COVID virus. 

Our Gratitude Tree was near the intersection of two sidewalks and had limbs low enough that we could tie some twine so people could easily attach their tags. We grabbed a graphic from the Web and produced a yard sign which we put in front of the tree. And, on a nearby fence, we provided a plastic mailbox with more tags and markers. The lid of the mailbox had a brief note that said: “What are you thankful for? Inside you’ll find some tags and pens. Share what you’re thankful for and hang it on the tree.” 

We ordered some waterproof tags and provided some Sharpie pens, put them in the mailbox, closed the lid and waited. For about a week, the two notes that I placed in the tree fluttered alone. But then a couple more were added, then a few more, and after about two weeks, we had nearly 50 notes. Some were simple comments like “My brother,” or “Great neighbors.” Others were a bit more involved such as “School and learning and food and trees and family, and I like cats,” or “The sun, trees and the breeze and a cozy house to snuggle down w/ my little bambinos and hot wife.” (Never did find out who wrote that, but we have a pretty good idea)

As more and more tags fluttered in the breeze, you could almost feel a general attitude improvement in the neighborhood. The gratitude shown provide a general positive mood as people would drive or walk by. We plan to do it again and encourage you to give it a try in your village. It’ simple, it’s easy and it’s uplifting. Put a Gratitude Tree in your neighborhood, watch the notes begin to appear, then pull them down, make a list of the notes and share them with your neighbors. You’ll be glad you did. 

Randy Bretz, Rousseau Neighborhood, Lincoln, Nebraska, United States

February, 2021

rgbretz@gmail.com

 

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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mark@villageinthecity.net