Managing a new community

I’ve been asked by @kevupnorth to do a guest blog post for his blog around some of the issues going on in Lightmoor (ignore the poor design and out of date information on the website, it’s a great start!).

This is going to be a bit of a first run at it, shape some ideas and come up with something concrete.

At the moment it’s a series of thoughts that don’t really have a full flowing narrative (and you know how much I love full flowing narratives).

So here’s the thoughts.

Lightmoor is a new build community on the edge of Telford. It’s a diverse community of people ranging from owner occupier to social housing. The community is being built by Bournville Village Trust in partnership with Crest Nicholson & Taylor Wimpey, the people who brought you the Birmingham community of Bournville.

Two phases of the building programme are ongoing at the moment. Stocking Park Road (the other end of the development) and the Ellens Bank area (where I live). Stocking Park Road have been living in their properties a good six months longer than the Ellens Bank end. Even within such a small area of land the challenges and difficulties presented are quite different. Ellens Bank area have a primary school approaching completion, there’s also a community centre and sports field. The Stocking Park residents have housing being built. Eventually the two developments will meet in the middle with shops and a pub and stuff.

Even as I write those things I can feel a “Them” and “Us” attitude creeping into my words. My perspective is tainted by the attitude that the Ellen Bank residents have somehow had more to endure than the Stocking Park residents.

Three incidents to illustrate the baby steps that the community is taking.

1) A new family moved into a house on the Ellens Bank end of the developement and there was gossip around some of the ways they chose to spend their evenings. People didn’t think it was right. Muttered conversations in little huddles. (Not quite over the garden fence but it’s what we’ll do as a substitute) This continued for a couple of weeks and then a newsletter came out reminding people about the “community spirit” and how sitting in front of your house on garden furniture wasn’t the done thing.

2) Then around the time of the World Cup a couple of houses put up England Flags, had parties in their garden and parking got a bit loopy. Out came another newsletter. I thinly referred to the newsletter as being a bit of a “shit sandwich” (good news, bad news, good news) on twitter and felt a bit bad scanning it and sending it to friends, saying “How amusing it is”.

Follow the link to a copy of the Lightmoor Leaflet[1]

I think it’s really interesting the number and tone of newsletters we get. They seem to come out on an infrequent basis and tend to only respond to things that haven’t gone to plan.

From the leaflet: the lightmoor garden competition is interesting to me. BVT are famous for being quite strict around how and what you can do with your property. There’s a property design guide outlining what’s right and wrong. In addition to the normal council run planning process you also have to submit to the trust any applications. So you might get council planning but fail to get approval from BVT. Anyhoo, the garden competition is a bit weird as all the gardens have been landscaped by Crest Nicholson as people move in. We’ve all got similar plants arranged in similar layout with brown wood chips keeping the weeds down. All the gardens are essentially identical and I think we’re all too afraid to tinker too much with them just yet.

 3) The Community Centre and new school. Recently the police were called out three times to the primary school due to “anti social behaviour”. The newsletter that came out detailed kids riding their bikes into glass doors, abusive behaviour to the security guard, that sort of thing. The community centre is being fitted out with computers etc so it’ll only be a matter of time before there’s a break in and we get another newsletter.

I contacted BVT about this saying I was concerned that this had happened. I also suggested a couple of tours of the buildings at a weekend for the community to see what the finished buildings look like. My thinking was if people saw the buildings from inside some of the curiosity/enigma of the building would wane. I also asked about details of any “grand opening” for the community centre. Would be a great story for the local media to come and cover. I also suggested holding some kind of special residents meeting to talk openly about the issues rather than just getting newsletters.

I should point out there is a regular residents meeting. It tends to be held a little too early in the day for me and my immediate neighbours to attend. I’d love to get involved but anything before 6pm on a week night and I’ll not be able to attend, but I won’t be able to put the opinion to the meeting as I won’t be able to get to it. (Catch 22 really)

I love where I live, I love the peace, I love the tranquility, I love the idea of community. I love how people are encouraged to feel like stewards of the community. The people are nice. I like that there’s chances to get involved with community events, competitions and a football club, I like that there’s a primary school and a community centre at the end of my road. But there’s something that tickles my brain about it all, something that if put too bluntly makes the community sound like something from George Orwells’ 1984 or Huxley’s Island. It sometimes feels a bit too “top down”, too constructed, too airbrushed.

So those are the thoughts. Connected but I’m not sure what overarching thought I have about building community. Maybe I’m too close and involved in how it’s being built to be objective. I’d love to know your thoughts on how a new community can take the right steps in talking about/to itself.

:: Update ::

@kevupnorth asked me to think about how online tools could help build the community. The expected response you’re probably expecting is for me to say “Build a blog, start a twitter feed and have a flickr account”. Something along the lines of becoming the place where conversations will happen and help shape the community. However there’s part of me that’s not sure that will help at this point. I think the residents need to engage with each other more before creating an “online voice” for the community to speak with. It needs to know itself and it’s shape and size before attempting to engage online.

That said, the community already has an online presence and I started my own hyperlocal blog about living in Lightmoor, it was a very brief blog as  all I was blogging about was versions of what appeared in the newsletters, near misses with lorries rumbling along in the morning and pictures of half built houses. (Buildings do not equal community) That blog got deleted but maybe I could be coaxed into starting it up again.

When I talk about blogging I usually end up talking about “tone” and “voice”. I usually end up pointing at Innocent Smoothies as a good example of a group/organisation having a clear tone and a clear voice with which to speak. Everything comes through a prism of the chatty, friendly tone.

I’d also point at my blog and say that I’ve got a tone that isn’t a million miles from how I am in the real world. People meet me offline and at some point usually say “You’re a lot like how you sound online/in my head”. I always find it really encouraging as I like sounding like me and not someone else.

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One Response to Managing a new community

  1. Pingback: Will the “real” Lightmoor please stand up « White like milk

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