In 2014, we were asked by the Barrow Cadbury Trust to try Street Associations in underprivileged neighbourhoods. With a certain amount of fear and trepidation, we had a go. What did we find?
- Many streets battle with antisocial behaviour, prostitution, drugs and more
- This causes people to hide behind their front doors. Antisocial behaviour kills community
- There’s a fear of getting involved – and a lack of hope. “It would take a miracle to get community spirit here”
- In fact, there are a lot of lovely people around. The key is to mobilize them.
The work has been far more labour-intensive than we first imagined. It is very relational, all about building trust, staying with people for the long haul, fanning the flame of confidence and collective ambition, and enjoying the buzz of working together to achieve something that makes such a difference.
Parties, coach trips and events
Social activities such as Christmas parties, Easter egg hunts, a tea for seniors, a coach trip or a barbecue have been held – several a year, on each street. Many have been very well attended and there has been huge enthusiasm about what has been achieved. As a result, the atmosphere on the street has changed, people start relating to each other in a new way, there is a new sense of optimism and a will to help each other.
Street Associations – Helping to rebuild community spirit
A March 2015 independent evaluation of SA work in low income neighbourhoods, with Birmingham University’s Third Sector Research Centre, concluded that:
“Within a relatively short space of time, Street Associations has achieved its goal of using social activities to ‘rebuild’ as sense … of neighbourly social networks … Views across all streets were that Street Associations made a positive impact – both in terms of what members had personally gained from participation and through changes across the wider community … It is important to record the sheer volume of local resident support in terms of volunteer time [and] donations of goods … Feedback from participants … was unanimously favourable in their response to Street Associations”.
Comments from residents quoted in the independent evaluation include the following:
“Street Associations has really got people involved. There has been a general apathy in the area … but the social side of Street Associations has really attracted people”.
“This has turned back some of the bad feeling that was coming round on the estate”.
“The way people just muck in, it’s been great. And they have been so generous, restores your faith, as they say”.
“I’m retired, so the Street Association has really given me a purpose and kept me active”.
“I was a bit sceptical at first…like this will not work around here. But I thought I’d give it a go. And the great thing is that other people have done so as well”.
“I think we should be really proud of ourselves”.
We are now working with Birmingham, Solihull and Walsall councils to pursue this work in many more streets.