In an ideal world we would all have relationships in our lives which would bring us the benefits of bonding, bridging and linking networks – but sometimes bringing people together requires a bit of help, in terms of infrastructure or opportunity. In Queen Edith’s we have examples of where this is working well and making a difference; but also where unnecessary obstacles are getting in the way.
Are you familiar with the term ‘social capital’? There’s a whole theoretical literature underpinning this concept but I think this diagram sums it up nicely:
In an ideal world we would all have relationships in our lives which would bring us the benefits of bonding, bridging and linking networks – but sometimes bringing people together requires a bit of help, in terms of infrastructure or opportunity. In Queen Edith’s we have examples of where this is working well and making a difference; but also where unnecessary obstacles are getting in the way. Here are some local examples I’ve been working on to support strengths or address deficits.
Many of you will already be familiar with the story of Joy’s Garden on Baldock Way. Since it came into community use a couple of months ago, I have received many offers of help and we have already run two events there: a children’s craft morning in half term, and a surprise Halloween event, which was visited by getting on for 100 passers-by! It is great to see how little encouragement people need to come up with ideas for future uses and it’s very easy to see how useful it will be as an informal, accessible community space in an area which has lacked that kind of provision.
It took the Joy’s Garden proposal four years to gain permission from the City Council. By a strange coincidence that’s also how long locals been waiting for the new pavilion in Nightingale Park to be built. This is a City Council led project, funded using developer S106 contributions, and the money was signed off in December 2015. Promised dates for progress have come and gone – planning permission was only sought this year – and as I write this, I am waiting for yet another update. To some extent, I understand why Joy’s Garden was a difficult proposition for the City Council, as it didn’t fit any of their standard templates for interaction with the community and someone had to take the decision that this proposal was OK. But no-one has yet satisfactorily explained what the obstacles are preventing the Pavilion, as the City Council has delivered several others around the city in the same timeframe, while simultaneously acknowledging that there is a shortfall in Queen Edith’s, particularly in the south of the ward. There are so many suggestions as to how that space could be used for community benefit, and so much evidence of pent-up demand, that yet another year of wasted opportunity is not much short of shameful.
The need to support community building is perhaps most acute in new neighbourhoods, and this is becoming increasingly important in Queen Edith’s because of urban fringe developments such as Ninewells and the 450 houses planned alongside Wort’s Causeway. I have long argued that Ninewells should be reviewed to see what’s worked in this context and what hasn’t – I know from helping the Residents’ Association get established that trying to build community in a place which lacks shared spaces has proved very challenging. They achieved one small victory this week, in the shape of the noticeboard they’d been asking the developer to install (since 2016!), so at least there will now be a physical means of sharing information. But in a self-described ‘high specification’ development, how can it possibly be right to have to wait three years for the most basic bit of social infrastructure?
Still on the subject of Ninewells, I’ve been helping another resident who offered to run free after-school activities for teenagers. She is still contesting the City Council’s decision that she cannot use the S106 funded – and currently completely unused – allotment shed to host her course, because that wasn’t the purpose for which it was built and maybe she’d like to come back in a year’s time and ask again. There’s nothing like a dose of unresponsive bureaucracy to dampen volunteers’ enthusiasm to support their fledgling community, and I sincerely hope that council officers will find a way to change their decision.
But finally, I wanted to share with you an inspiring story of how one small change can make a big difference. A resident on a street in the south of the ward organised a ‘Big Lunch‘ with her neighbours this summer. The Big Lunch is an offshoot of the Eden Project Communities programme, with an emphasis on “simple acts of friendship, community and fun”. The lunch itself, organised at short notice and something of a step into the unknown, was a big success in its own right; but more importantly has led to a flourishing of new sociability in that area. She writes: “Our neighbours at A dropped a bag of pears off. The neighbours at B picked several bags of apples from C and dropped them off with neighbours, they say they now wave hello to more neighbours than before. Yesterday the neighbour at D had a tea party with people from five houses and so I met new people. The lady from E regularly cooks extra and gives it to the lady at F because in her culture this is what good neighbours always do. After a couple of people mentioned it would be nice to have another street party before it gets too cold, we are going to try for the second one. This time it will be in the afternoon because we have learned that the elderly man at G is a carer for his 98 year old mother and he can only come out in the afternoon after the nurses have been. These are all small changes but it is lovely to see a little more people greeting each other.”
Social capital matters. I’d be interested in hearing your experiences (good and bad) and how you think the process of nurturing it could be made easier and more effective.