Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Older neighbours and street parties Streets Alive has just made available a briefing called Older people and neighbouring: the role of street parties in promoting community cohesion, which I co-wrote with Chris Gittins. The work was part-funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation and gave me the chance to go through some interview and survey material from numerous street parties held in England between 2005 and 2007. We found that 84% of respondents thought that street parties bring together residents of different backgrounds either ‘a fair amount’ (45%) or ‘a lot’ (39%). Respondents met on average between seven and eight neighbours ‘for the first time’ or ‘got to know them better’. Key to the success of the events is that never less than 50% and often as high as 80% of households participate. Street parties appear to be ideal when it comes to celebrating diversity and promoting cohesion between ethnic groupings. But part of our concern was that differences in values between generations can emerge that may be at least as significant as those between ethnic and national backgrounds. It seems that some older people exclude themselves from street parties, and it comes down to levels of recognition and trust. One resident told us: ‘If they know they can trust people and get to know them, they will come out in force. If they don’t know you, the shutter comes down, and that’s that.’ We drew out three conclusions: it's important to make the particular efforts needed to engage older people in street parties, because weak levels of neighbourliness will disadvantage them disproportionately; however, if older people do not attend, it's not a crisis. Street parties will still enhance neighbourliness and the benefits can still be extended to older residents; we should be wary of characterising older people as if they were just the recipients of bounty. The principle of interdependence means that we should put effort into exploring how older people themselves can shape and contribute to the events. The paper is available as a pdf from Streets Alive.

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