Purple balloons in a community party.

Why have a meeting, when you can have a party?

In our last Community Building blog, Philip shared his experience of ‘Walking the talk….finding hidden treasures’. Similarly to Philip my involvement in Community Building has also challenged me to think about the relationship I have to my neighbours and my community.

When you’re asked to think about your community, how many of your neighbours do you know by their first name? This was a question I recently asked people at a workshop I organised for You’re Welcome, a ten year plan set up by Barnwood Trust in Gloucestershire.

I first starting thinking about this question in 2011, as I walked my dog around my neighbourhood. I started to realise that I didn’t see many of my neighbours, let alone know their names. Like many people I hadn’t really given that much thought to how well I knew my neighbours before. I was busy at work or out with friends in the evening. In fact, I didn’t really see it as a problem, as people seemed friendly and it felt like a good place to live. However, as I started to think about the relationship I had with my community, I also considered how connected my neighbours were to each other, especially those who were the most marginalised and isolated, and what might help people get to know each other better.

Many of us might be tempted to offer a solution to address these issues. However, more often than not, the solutions lie in the community. So I asked myself what can I do to listen better to my community?

A couple of months ago I was introduced to our new Parish Clerk, who had been involved in some Asset Based Community Development in West Wales. Through this conversation we discovered that she used to run a bar in Spain, through which she confessed that her hidden talent was creating cocktails and mocktails (alcohol free cocktails)! She had shared this skill with some young people in West Wales, so they could host their own mocktail party, which proved to be really popular. After several conversations with with a group of local residents and some young people in the area we agreed between us to host a party. The young people would create and make the mocktails, and the group of residents would invite friends and neighbours to come along to share ideas about we could do together to make our community an even better place to live.  As someone once said to me “Why have a meeting, when you can have a party?” (Jim Diers).

Party drinks in a community event.

We held the party a couple of weeks ago, and I’m delighted to say it was a huge success. The mocktails went down a storm, we even had to make a dash for extra ingredients! The young people involved loved it so much, they want to do more events over the summer.

During the party we met lots of people who had some amazing ideas, including how residents could welcome new neighbours moving into the community when the new housing estate is finished, and others who wanted to start up environmental projects and a choir. Most importantly though people met each other informally, and the party atmosphere created a sense of what could be possible when we share our ideas and passions with each other.

Community members participating a workshop activity.

My hope is that this experience will help us to learn to listen better to each other, so we can hear more of these inspirational ideas, and use our connectedness to bring people together.