A few days ago I went back to listen to a BBC Woman’s Hour programme from before Christmas which had an article about neighbourliness. It included a conversation with Helen Hibberd, Co-ordinator of Chorlton Good Neighbours (which I’ve mentioned recently) and Liz Richardson, from Manchester University, who I think I can get away with calling the doyenne of community action research.
One of the points that Liz was making was that people seem to want to be more friendly with their neighbours but feel shy and say there are things that inhibit them from ‘making the first move’ – echoing Lilian Linders’ research finding about ‘the request scruple’: the problem is on the demand side, not the supply side.
As it happens I bumped into Liz at a meeting in London on Friday, and she told me that when she got home from the recording studio on the day the programme was made, she found there was a serious brawl going on in the street outside her house. For all the soullessness of contemporary neighbouring in some contexts, to which she had referred in her broadcast comments, here was a violent and bloody fight going on in the street.
But, Liz assured me, the neighbours rallied round, saw off the attackers and cared for the wounded victim.
Which reminded me of my own reality check, when talking about neighbourliness to camera a few years ago and finding that local kids were throwing stones at us.
It would be better not to have such incidents, but at least they help stop some of us getting soppy about ‘community’ and neighbourly relations.