My neighbour’s neighbour.

What do you do with those ideas which don’t quite fit with your day job? A colleague wants to reach out to an older lady she sees the District Nurse visiting. If they were neighbours, she’d pop round. But when someone lives a few doors away, breaking that barrier between street and living room can seem taboo.

Another colleague knocks on everyone’s door in his village to invite them to an annual fundraiser. Perhaps easier in a village than a city. Another is starting a Facebook page for his street. If he can get the web-savvy young professionals amongst his neighbours connected in that way, he knows he’ll then have the challenge of helping that virtual community connect with the off-line residents, to make the exercise really worthwhile.

Visiting the government’s new public services innovation hub for the first time, I found that someone else has had the same idea that’s been bubbling away for me for a while: why isn’t there a website which, when I enter my postcode, tells me about people within five minutes walk of my house who need some help? Matching and safeguarding could be carried out by an accredited local organisation or charity. In return for carrying out that task, the local organisation gets to put one of their clients on the site.

One community organiser already does a low-tech version of this kind of community knitting: knocking on doors and asking everyone in an estate what interests they have. Through this, he’s found the makings of a community orchestra from all estate’s hidden musicians.

You may hate my idea, or have a better one, in which case you can give it the chance of being awarded funding by joining the hub (email dgl.hub@directgov.gsi.gov.uk or alex@naaps.org.uk to get an invite to the site, which is members-only, but open to anyone invited by a current member).

The Big Society could be characterised as the hope that you can recreate the village in today’s inner city. I don’t think you can: tackling our isolation will require new ways of linking like-minded people around their interests and the fit between one person’s needs and another’s desire to help, even if they don’t live next door to each other, or have a passion for street parties. Ideas on a postcard, or a website, please.

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3 thoughts on “My neighbour’s neighbour.

  1. Liam Waldron January 10, 2011 / 2:50 pm

    Very interesting Alex. I’d like to make a couple of comments.

    I work in the area of disability theology and I’m very keen on localism, local theology and in most (not all) things that could be located within the category known as ‘subsidiarity’. I have done a lot of research on the issue of loneliness and it’s a very serious problem, a lot worse than we might think. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities describes it as ‘a taste of death’. Legislative approaches are unable to adequately address it because the law does not work at the points where human persons create relationship. In fact, the virtue of choice that is so foundational to the approach taken to disability today is the very same virtue that gives me the choice not to care about anyone who lives near me.

    I feel you are probably right that the recreation of the village in the city may not be possible but we have to look at what a village is. I do not think that it is a place where ‘like-minded people’ are linked. I do not believe that real community is about like-mindedness. Where would that leave people with disabilities, or Alzheimer’s Disease, or others who do even speak perhaps? Many of the people who are my concern in my research do not reveal that they are lonely and isolated but we know that they are. And so are many of those who care for them. I feel it has to be about ‘being’ with someone first of all, and then ‘doing’, if that’s possible.

    From my point of view, unless and until we see others about us as our ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, we will never create real community, or to use a theological word, real ‘communion’.

    Keep blogging on this please because it’s such an important issue.

    Thank you.

    Liam

    • alexfoxblog January 10, 2011 / 3:10 pm

      Really thoughtful response – thanks very much Liam. I agree with you that the concept of “like mindedness”, like “community” itself, I guess, can be exclusive as well as inclusive. Can you have belonging, without having people who don’t belong? Is a shared space only defined by its walls? One of the appeals of the work which our members does to me is that it makes links in unlikely places. People who have been assumed not have anything in common with anyone, and to be “challenging”, turn out to have plenty in common with others, when they find the right place to call home. In fact – i’ve just realised that i’ve got a story about that, which will be my next blog!

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