'We are called to love our neighbours. But before that we should really get to know them'
Live with people not just next to them; give your spare time to your neighbour instead of your age or social group; sit on a bench and just watch; hear stories; let people talk at you if they want to; listen to the ideas of others; spot the little glimpses of joy; go slowly; be vulnerable; listen some more and let others lead.
My to do list goes something like that.
For 9 years and 6 months I have lived in Lower Clapton, Hackney, London. It might be said that I spent 5 years trying to listen and then 4 and a bit years trying to do.
The ‘listening’ was great, but during the last 4 years of ‘doing’ I’ve been a part of helping to build a community food growing group on a hackney estate. Multi-cultural; multi-ethnic; multi-crime; multi-ill-health; multi-drugs; multi-alcohol; multi-murders; multi-poverty. The ‘Welcome to Hackney’ parade rarely had many visitors to meet and greet.
A couple of weeks ago however, we put on our 3rd annual Green Day. The stories and stats paint a sad picture of where I live, but all of the stories seem to forget to mention that people live here. Not the labels mentioned above, people. And it’s those people who make the annual Green Day what it is.
We show and share from our 45 growing allotment plots. We meet at orchards, public herb beds, community meals and the cold-framed balcony of the local church. While together our actions write new stories of how local people are working together while we talk about old ones.
We had fun, bouncy, inflatable things for kids and lots of free food – all cooked by local people. The nearest ‘gentry’ market joined us and brought some stalls down; breaking the divide between ‘estate and streets’.
The local is being cared for, the national is being affected and international touched upon – as we discuss where seeds came from or simply share our own stories. All of this is happening because we simply started to grow food together.
Here in Lower Clapton, people are becoming more involved politically as they realise choices they make can make positive changes. Strangers with labels are now neighbours with first names. And the beautiful thing is that everyone is invited to the table.
It only takes 2 minutes to knock next door and say ‘Hi, I’m a local community volunteer and I’ve got an idea about that patch of grass over the road…What do YOU think?’
As I write this blog, a bunch of us are gathering in the church (as it’s comfy and has WIFI), I’m passing on the start of a new community website to a mix of people who will be community editors. They will learn how to use and pass on the knowledge to others – hopefully decentralising right from the off. If you would like to have a look at what we have so far: www.claptonpark.estate or you can find a few of our gardening capers and other bits on Facebook: Clapton Park Green Fingers