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#66 Bristol Street Party (with tips!)

We held a street party in my neighbourhood in Bristol, UK last year and had a great time. There are lots of similarities like bringing people together in a safe shared environment (our street without cars just for one day), encouraging us all to meet eachother, share some food, listen to some music find shared interests, and, all in all, support our sense of community amid the hurly burly of life.

It was great fun, easy to do, and everyone loved it. The worst thing that could have happened is that a few of us would have done a bit of work and no-one would have come. In fact, more than 100 people came, all bringing some great food, games, music.

Original Post at my site

(Alfie - the youngest party attendee at 7 days)

This is a little post about the good stuff you find on your own street, and the possibilities of bottom-up organisation in the wild.

How many times have you said or heard ‘I don’t know my neighbours’, and felt that it just isn’t right?We organised a street party on Sunday 14th September. I highly recommend giving it a try. A small group of us neighbours (Mark Simmons, Janine Wheatley, Ciaran Mundy and I) decided this would be a good idea some time ago, and agreed to share the responsibility.

Our first step was to contact some mates at Streets Alive in Bristol. This was the most important thing we did; one of the lads came up and patiently wound us down from our world domination plans, advising us to:

* keep the organising to a minimum - you need a core team but only for core stuff (council etc.)
* share all the responsibility out widely
* avoid money wherever possible
* keep ownership of the party with the neighbours
* relax and let it emerge under its own steam
* if people have issues with the party, ‘give them a damn good listening to’
* don’t dictate what will happen - set the space up and let the neighbours fill the gaps
* focus on the purpose: for neighbours to meet and get to know eachother
* a good way for this purpose is to have a shared meal

This advice was absolutely vital.

(the facilitation boards made excellent art walls)

The ‘core team’ (us originators) only needed to do the following things:

* write all the letters to neighbours (160 door fronts is a lot of letters)
* apply for permit from the council
* organise and run the open meetings in the street
* know who is doing what

Beyond that, we also organised the tables, facilitation boards (thanks Jack!)bunting, and ’street closed’ signs, but anyone could have done them in theory.

Following the initial ‘core organisers’ meeting, we held 3 open meetings in the street (with a few ‘core’ meetings dotted around). These gave everyone the opportunity to have their say over whether to have the party or not, its date, location, and how the party might work.

The meetings were also there to attract voluntary support - following the advice from Streets alive, we avoided dictating any ideas, preferring instead to attract people to sort themselves out. The first volunteer was Tony, who agreed to ’sort out the music’… brilliant…

(Danny (left) turned out to be a chess whizz and had many challengers)

Beyond the meetings, we really did very little. As an event designer and facilitator who works to exceptionally detailed event timetables and knows absolutely everything about the event’s logistics in advance, this was a little bit scarey for me and I had the occasional worry. But it was also good for me; we were heading towards a pretty much totally self-organised gathering of neighbours - why worry?

The worst that could happen is that the four of us in the ‘core team’ would have lunch together on a very long empty table in the rain one Sunday - yes we’d feel silly, but that’s hardly a bad thing.

(The musicians at work)

The morning of the party was quite odd; we had distributed the last letter to the neighbours asking them to move the cars (could be a bit of an issue) and the street was sort of empty.

We put the bunting up, the tables out (thank you Saint Werburghs Community Centre for the tables and Millennium Domes for the van), brushed the street, chivvied a few car movers, and loitered.

The party revolved around the shared meal, and gradually neighbours appeared with dishes, boxes of apples, children etc.

It was amazing - people just appeared with stuff to share. And they were all really keen, and the party just took off and organised itself. Tony and the music folks appeared from nowhere with all the stuff they needed, and during the day, a variety of different neighbours had a go on the microphone.

Someone produced a ping pong table which was very popular, a bubble machine (very popular with the cards), giant chess set, painting stuff and more… We wore name badges which were very very useful…

Youtube video of the musicians jamming

(’what’s going on board)

We had a board set up for local people to let eachother know what they did and what else was going on. This started empty, but once everyone saw what it was there for, it was covered in cards, flyers, questions, answers, jokes and ultimately the masks that they kids had made at the arty table…

So all in all, have a street party.

It wasn’t hard or expensive, we all met neighbours who we had never
even seen in the hurly burly of life, shared stuff, swapped things,
arranged trades of stuff, gossiped, got to know eachother a bit, and
celebrated our human-ness.

Now I recognise people which is just blooming marvelous.

Comments (2)

Picture of user DaveGravina

Inspiring stuff, thanks for sharing your story and tips Ed. We're thinking of launch live local with a wee Block party in Surry Hills after reading this. Our little spot in Surry Hills (Foster Street) is made of people who work here and people who live here and the two tribes rarely interact so i think we'll see if we can break down those barriers and get to know the neihgbours. What better way to launch live local!?

Picture of user vaike neeme

i love this so much. i want to do it. the only stumbling block is shyness....will i overcome that? wait and see....

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