Tuesday, 13 July 2010

'50 Ways to Meet Your Neighbour' Last night to a somewhat exploratory Big Society event - as Tim Davies has noted, 'a rather chaotic open space event packed into a small space in the DCLG offices' (pic by Paul Clarke). Lots of ideas spilling out, some specific, many at a high level of generality as we all experiment with this new syntax of not-quite-policy. Even I was surprised at some of the determined theoretical pondering and the persistence of conceptual bullet-pointing. I've been told I could conceptualise for Britain; but for once I came over all practical. Perhaps it was just that I'm still creaky and wembly from the weekend's flu-blast, perhaps partly it was the reassuring first half of Paul Twivy's introductory speech (the second drifted into social enterprise land and I lost the path, no matter). First, a general point. About five years ago there were some evangelical jamboree-style events around the new Labour notion of 'Together We Can'. They were characterised by a refreshing if puzzling sense of welcome suddenly offered to the community sector, without any relinquishing of the agenda by the centre. I was struck last night by the comparison. The language and issues have not really changed: the style, however, couldn't be much different. Whereas TWC events were anti-septic, anti-sceptic, and highly-orchestrated, last night's open session - albeit inevitably dominated by the London twitterati - was fluid, confusing, creative - and consciously, almost riskily, under-managed. I stood in a corner with Roxanne Persaud and Nick Buckley for a conversation about how neighbouring is a fundamental ingredient of Big Society, given the principles of local connection and involvement in issues of common interest. I asked how we overcome the shyness/privacy barriers that constrain people from making those initial connections that result in neighbourly behaviour. We seem to need more devices like street parties and clean-ups that will just get folk started; and I argue that for neighbouring to work, we don't need much more than basic recognition (but we do need fewer cars on our pavements). The forthcoming Gumtree research (to be launched next week, trailed here) makes the point that shyness is a big barrier and people don't like to impose themselves. Can Big Society help us raise awareness large-scale, and bring the inhibition bar down a notch or two? Nick came up with the phrase '50 Ways to Meet Your Neighbour' and we kicked things off with the first few... pavement freecycling, bench in the front garden, communal wheelie bins etc. And this from Roxanne - networked multi-user games in temporary public wifi spaces. Working on the idea later today.

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