Thursday 29 September 2011

Community – How Parts Become Whole - Magdalen Street Celebration

In these often suffoc-atingly material times, we so called ‘civilized’ people of the UK, with our impressive techno-logical advancements, expansive collections of gadgets, personal computers, private vehicles and our consuming obsession with owning our own pile of bricks and mortar to ensconce ourselves and our precious possessions in, locked away from others behind closed doors and gates, often respond to the idea of community with a sense of dread. To a society used to shutting ourselves away the word can hold daunting connotations.

Although we might enjoy a little company now and then, we are held back by fear and our addiction to thinking of ourselves as separate beings. Why get together with neighbours when our time is so scarce and precious, we think? If we joined a community we might have to change our routines, perhaps work fewer hours, perhaps commute less often, perhaps even give up some precious TV or internet time! How can we possibly meet people when we have social media profiles to update?!

In a society that has been based on individual gain, material wealth and consumption for so long, it may feel like a huge ask to relax the tight reins with which we constrain our lives and start to dismantle the barriers between us, in our cosy TV lit homes, and them, the people we live near to on a physical level but rarely communicate with on any other level. On the other hand, it might seem like a blessed relief!

Paradoxically, many of us secretly dream of being part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our immediate families, social or work groups. We crave the companionship, ideas and support of people who may be different from us in many ways but who also share the vast and varied experiences of our local environments. People who walk the same streets as we do, who visit the same parks, use the same local shops and services, who breath the same air and drink the same water, meet in the same pubs, attend the same churches, school and colleges and eat in the same restaurants as well as perhaps work in the same area.

These shared experiences and the issues, challenges and benefits that arise from them can be ours for the taking. All we have to do is step into it. To shift our mindsets away from ourselves as individual separate beings, ensnared in our own personal bubbles and the tangled web of stories we tell ourselves to keep us there. To, instead, embrace ourselves as a whole, part of a larger unit of beings, free to live the human story we are designed to embody.

Becoming part of our local community simply means taking and giving time to share our experiences rather than keeping them to ourselves. The extent to which we allow ourselves to shed personal barriers and embrace our oneness with the community already waiting for us, is up to us, of course. Yet, like most values in life, the more we give, the more we have to gain.

The sharing is not only cathartic but can enable us, as a community, to build on ideas, change the systems and things that could work better for us and generally improve life for us as individuals, families or households and as a functioning community. The benefits can be overwhelmingly positive – new friends, improved facilities, new ideas, shared resources and experiences, better services and the simple, often forgotten pleasure of knowing that there will always be someone to greet and be greeted by with a cheerful ‘hello’, to return our heartfelt smile and pass it on as we traverse our local streets.

One of the greatest benefits of accepting our roles as members of our local community is the opportunity to celebrate together. Whether this is at the end of a hard worked project, a recognition of passing time, marking the changing seasons or to raise awareness and resources, community celebrations can be a wonderful time to take a break from our everyday routines, slow down the pace of life and revel in all that is good and positive about our shared environment, including each other.

The 2nd annual Magdalen Street Celebration, taking place on 1st October this year, was born from a simple desire to celebrate all that is wonderful about the area. Its diverse community, wealth of creativity and passionate drive towards sustainability – making good use of what we already have.

Over the decades, the various communities of Magdalen Street and its surrounding roads have, like many communities, experienced a variety of highs and lows: the devastating effects of war-time, poorly designed architecture and planning, inefficient resources and attention as well as more positive design and planning decisions, the influx of new community groups bringing fresh culture, the determination of residents, traders and regular visitors to keep the streets alive commercially and spiritually, and the resourcefulness of newcomers and old timers alike.

Walking around Magdalen Street, peering through lovingly displayed shop windows, rummaging miles of pre-loved clothing racks, searching for treasure in a jumble of donated and recycled goodies, perusing shelves stacked high with spices and foods from around the globe, picking up fresh fish for supper, enjoying good coffee and cake whilst people watching or sharing delicious curry with friends, it is easy to see why the Magdalen Street area is so loved.

The plethora of hard working charity shops, vintage furniture and clothing emporiums, fabric and craft stores, curry houses, the antique pawnbrokers and fishmongers, well used cafes and coffee shops, music stores, health and wellbeing providers, tattoo, hair and beauty parlours, colourful galleries, pop-up art and creative spaces and the wide variety of food stores sit happily in and alongside historical buildings and sites. Beautiful flint churches, ancient remains of the city walls, secret alleyways with intriguing homes at the bottom and half-hidden courtyards all embed and enhance the magic.

Amongst this profusely rich variety, you and I wander. Using the local independent stores and services, valuing the lack of soul-less chains, exploring changes, discovering treasure, meeting new and familiar faces, getting to know each other, the people and places that make this area much more than a collection of streets and places to spend money and travel through. As we involve ourselves in Magdalen Street’s magic, we find ourselves in the heart of a community, vibrant, diverse, historical and sustainable. A community with much to offer. And we may just discover that community isn’t that scary after all!

Come help us celebrate our community on 1st October and every day after until the next time. Have fun getting to know your community better and remember to pass on that smile! x Rachel Lalchan

Photo: Pawn Shop and City Wall by Thomas Woods