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

 

Do we need “Village in the City” in villages?

This is another guest blog from Richard Lucas, a member of the Village in The City advisory board, entrepreneur, networker and connector.  He has been wondering about quite how essential is the ‘city’ part of our mission…

Imagine you live in a village – an actual village, in the country. You are community minded, want to connect, but the activities and events around which the village convenes are all interest specific. There are no “all village events” where you can meet anyone and everyone. The clubs and communities are for specific interests and social groups: perhaps a book club, the church, sport and yoga clubs and a cooking group, but not much for everyone.

Perhaps there are many villages like this, in the UK and further afield.

When I volunteered to help Mark with Village in the City the idea of helping bringing “village like” communities to cities seemed most needed, and it still does.

We are wondering whether there are villages that could benefit from our approach and inclusive values as well. Maybe there are villages where community life could be strengthened, through regular community gatherings, newcomers clubs, or projects that could bring people together.

Our name, “Village in the City” might sound as if it is not “for” villages. If anyone who lives in a village wants to see if there is a demand for inclusive, regular “open to all” community activities and projects, we are more than happy to welcome you into the VITC family.

We won’t change our name – but if hundreds or thousands, (or hundreds of thousands!!) villages sign up then we might need a separate website called “strengthening village communities” or something like that.

For now, we are just saying, villagers in villages are welcome. Sign up to join us by putting your village On The Map, either as a start-up or (with three people involved) a full project.

March call now available for booking: Safe Strong Cohesive Communities with Dilia Swart, Protection Approaches

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.

Indoor meeting places: Restaurants with common dining tables

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.

What next? 

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.

 

‘The office is over’… brings opportunities for village-building and place-making

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.

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

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Our Contacts

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+44 (0)7976 936086

mark@villageinthecity.net