Creating Community: What YOU Can Do
By Anthea Hudson
It seems likely that in the future our local community will play an even more important part in our lives, especially if we hope to become as resilient as possible, through the uncertainty and changing times ahead.
Close knit communities will naturally care more about its members, than those where not many people even know each other, let alone share much of their lives. People working together can achieve things on a larger scale, than we as individuals probably can. Shared skills, food, possessions, time and energy can create a more self sustaining community. Shared enthusiasm can generate great momentum. Creating a mutual network within our local community will be one of the most important resources for developing a secure, resilient and more connected future.
We can't wait for, or perhaps even expect, our local government to create this ideal vision. It needs to come from the grass roots, from the people who live, work and play in the community itself. Us! We need to make it happen and motivate others to join in. To ignite a spark that spreads throughout the community. Naturally, working in with your local government or other entities may be necessary at times, and will hopefully encourage them to get involved too, on many levels.
So, what can YOU do to help get the ball rolling? Some things are really very simple and take little extra time or effort, and some take more organisation but can be very worthwhile for both those who are organising and the community at large. It all depends on how you see yourself participating. You will have a sense of how much time and energy you have to put into this, what skills and strengths you have. And how important this is to you. You may start off very small, but as others have found, you may get caught up in the enthusiasm, and the sense of urgency and need, and increase your involvement dramatically. Especially as you develop more skills, knowledge and confidence, and develop a real desire to help your fellow community members and motivate them too!
The following are some ideas to help get community spirit thriving:
- If you don't already know them, make a start by introducing yourself to your next door neighbours! In some areas, a high percentage of people have never even spoken to their neighbours, or no more than a "hi" or a nod. Then progress to houses across the street, and up and down.
- Offer your neighbours spare lemons, plums, herbs or tomatoes etc... and in return you may end up with things they have excess of, that you don't grow. Don't make it an expectation though- more a pleasant and welcome surprise when it happens. As time goes on, you could even make agreements with neighbours that each grows specific things, which are then shared. This saves everyone trying to grow everything they might use, and allows for a wider range of homegrown produce than might otherwise be practical.
- Offer to help your neighbours out by mowing their front lawn or nature strip when you do yours, feeding their pets and bringing in their mail while they are away, run errands for them at the same time you do yours- or take them with you- or offering to take their children along with yours to school. You will probably find most will reciprocate with similar offers. Of course, some things do require a certain amount of trust, so will probably not be something to offer, or accept, too early in the acquaintanceship.
- Set up an exchange between you and your neighbours- or extend it into the broader community- where people submit a list of items, such as tools and equipment, that they are willing to lend to other community members. This may need some ground rules, for instance in the case where something is damaged or lost, or kept longer than originally agreed. It is, however, a very good way to start establishing a resilient local network.
- This idea can also be extended to skills of community members, and other services. Whatever people feel they have to offer, that may be of benefit to others.
- Compile a regularly updated list of "at risk" people in the community, such as elderly, disabled, ill or injured. Or even a heavily pregnant mum, very large family, or someone at a low point in their lives, doing it tough. Try to have people commit to look out for these people on a regular basis and maybe also do things like offer them transport, cook them a meal now and then, offer help with tasks around their home and yard, or just give them some company on an ongoing basis.
- Don't forget to look out for your own neighbours too- at risk or not! You are much more likely to notice someone who shouldn't be lurking about a neighbour's property if you know they are away... or realise old Mrs Johnson hasn't been out to her letterbox for a couple of days and may need checking on. Too often we hear of elderly people falling and even dying, laying there for days, weeks or even months before being found. Don't let that horror be a blemish on your caring community.
- Organise a street, block or neighbourhood party. If this is to be more than a few families, you will probably need to contact your local council or other authority to find out if there are any requirements or permits for doing this. You could hold the event in a park, or even find out if you can have your street closed. This can be difficult to achieve, however if you can hold it in a cul-de-sac or no through road, and all residents are in favour, you may have more success.
- Start community swap meets where people bring along unwanted items, which anyone is free to take if it is useful to them. Clothes, household items, books, bric-a-brac, tools, even furniture... whatever they no longer need which is good enough to be given a second life.
- Hold regular produce swaps, where people bring along excess home grown produce to share. This might extend to preserved foods, jams, dried herbs, eggs, plants and seeds... whatever people grow or produce that they have excess of.
- Create a community garden, or a shared gardening scheme, where you match people with spare garden space (such as elderly or very busy people who find it difficult to do much gardening) with those who have little space, but are enthusiastic about growing things. The costs and harvest is then split up between the people benefitting.
- Start walking rather than driving when going locally, and say "hi" to other walkers, or people in their front yards as you pass.
- Spend some time in your front garden, or on your porch, preferably at a time when people are more likely to be about, and say "hi" to people who go by.
- Be friendly, and maybe even introduce yourself to small shop owners and workers, when you shop there.
- Try to shop locally whenever you can and support your local small businesses, both for local economy support and to establish a connection with the owners/workers. You may even find an added benefit if they recommend best tasting produce, tell you of specials, maybe even save something special for you. They may also be cooperative in ordering something different for you that they don't usually stock.
- Organise with neighbours to buy bulk orders and split them up, to save money and individual travel costs.
- Survey local people as to what shops and services are lacking in your area. Can you supply incentive to get some of them established in your community? Can members of the community itself help fill those needs?
- Start your own community newsletter, newspaper, blog, website... or even radio station- online or offline. Keep your community informed on all aspects of their community life- celebrate the good; advise them of upcoming difficulties; report new shops, services or parks in the area; welcome newcomers to the area and say goodbye to departing ones. Help make everyone feel a part of their community and give somewhere where they can have a say on things that may affect them. Used wisely, wide-scale communication can be the lifeblood of a community.
- Work with a local venue- such as a coffee shop, community centre, or a recreation venue- to establish a Community Hangout type of place. The type and size of the chosen location will depend on the size of neighbourhood you are hoping to cover, and the type of residents you expect may take part. Somewhere that people know is the place where their local community hang out, chat, mull over ideas, maybe eat or share a coffee together, on an informal basis. Make sure it is a place where newcomers can feel welcome too, and not just the established "in-crowd". You could also establish a local park as a good weather hangout, and use the indoor venue for colder, wetter weather or evenings.
- Hold regular community meetings or movie nights, where you discuss and watch films about relevant issues such as peak oil, climate change, transition, permaculture, healthy lifestyles etc.
- Hold community workshops on various skills such as gardening, permaculture, sewing, preserving foods, cooking, woodworking, "green" building or retrofitting etc. Seek out community members who have useful skills who would be willing to share their knowledge and practical guidance. This could even be extended into skilled members offering personal advice and tutoring in their field to individuals who want to learn.
- Be the catalyst in forming smaller groups who take on certain responsibilities for planning and implementing environmental, community, sustainability and transition projects. One person, or small group of people, can't do everything. It is far better to focus on a specific project- while operating in co-ordination with the whole- and get results, than to spread yourself too thin and never really accomplish anything.
- Get as many people as possible involved in some way, working on projects where they feel passionate about. Create a feeling of "ownership", where people feel what they say and do matters, where they have a say in decisions and can feel a sense of pride and achievement when their plans come to fruition.
- Remember to have fun, play and laugh together as friends... Don't make it all about getting work done.
- Let your worries and concerns go now and then, and just enjoy the company of your neighbours, bond, connect, form strong friendships.
You will no doubt think of many more ideas yourself, that are relevant to your particular community.
With many of them implemented, you are well on the way to building a strong, more self sustainable community, that will be supportive to its members and hopefully evolve to meet the upcoming times with preparedness and resilience.
Happy Community Building!