Rachel's blog piece on Thursday spoke powerfully about what makes community and what enables connection, and conversely what produces the opposite - isolation and disconnection.
What struck me today was that this trend toward isolation extends itself to our places of work and office environments. Whilst offices, like homes, appear to have become more sophisticated places, this same sophistication can have subtle effects of human disconnection, with sometimes bizarre manifestations.
I do some work for Norfolk County Council, who, in it's wisdom, recently moved our particular office base from a lovely converted Georgian House, to a shiny new open plan job on the Broadland Business Park. Yesterday was my first foray into the new base. Once onto the labyrinth of the site itself, I immediately felt a sensation of being out of place riding my bicycle between vast swathes of car parks and aircraft hangers masquerading as offices. My body sensation was similar to my reaction to being in supermarkets..... but that one needs to wait for another blog! Actually asking the way to a building that had more numbers to it than a name produced blank responses. "Never heard of it mate" was the most common - this from an employee of a neighbouring building that turned out to be about 300 metres away from my destination.
Once found, and inside - having punched in security codes and swiped a card through various doors ( much reminding me of scenes from Starship Enterprise) - I searched for a vacant hotdesk amongst whole lines of computer terminals with the occasional head to be seen protruding above the partitions. At the desk, I felt strangely cocooned, even though there were actually many people spread around me. So welcome to the new office, I thought. Whilst everything looked shiny and functional, actually there were some bizarre results of technological interface. I discovered, for instance, that when return phone calls came in, the person answering the phone who was on the opposite 'wing' of the building to where I was located, could not route the call to my desk - because there was no way of telling where I was sitting. This resulted in the occasional sprint by the person taking the call to find me.... she commented that the new office was getting her quite fit.
The contrast to the old office could not have been starker. Here we had exactly the same group of people, moved to another office environment, albeit combined with many other staff, who then appeared to change behaviour around and within the environment.
So back to Magdalen Street. Refreshingly free of supermarkets and the big 'multiples' - so far - it certainly encourages lots of human interaction, on the street, in the small shops, and around the bus stops. It seems to have resisted the trend toward functionality, retained it's historic quarter, yet introduced the new through the appearance of more cafes and small businesses.We have good cause to celebrate it as a place of community and creativity, and the organising group deserve great credit in bringing out the best in locality and authentic community-building in this year's celebration. I don't quite know how they managed to create the weather to go with it.... but it makes for a promising start to the day.