Most people in most places would envy us where we live. By and large the neighbourhood is calm, peaceful and prosperous. We have two convivial pubs and two kindly schools. People form friendships and pursue common interests – football, dog-walking, movies, knitting. By and large they are comfortable with each other. But does a civil and agreeable neighbourhood add up to a community?
There certainly are communities to be found in the Prestonville area. Last Sunday’s rain-defying party in Coventry Street proves that. So does the emergence of the Friends of Dyke Road Park, the street meetings that grew out of Chatsworth Road’s neighbourhood watch scheme, and the trove of cakes and plants that the Trefoil Guild provides once a year. People who live in the same street do form communities – largely, perhaps, because people sharing a street tend to have other things in common, such as young families. So do people with other shared interests, such as sport or gardening.
But do these communities form part of a larger neighbourhood community, one that you can outline on a map? And does it matter whether they do or don’t? The Prestonville Community Association was founded on the assumption that the neighbourhood does amount to a community, or that a community can be nurtured within the area by residents’ activities. In earlier years, with more active participants than it has now, it certainly succeeded in staging events such as street parties that reached out to the whole neighbourhood. Yet the reality was that the burden of the work generally fell on one or two people. Rather than being community activities, these events were put on by a small number of volunteers for residents in general to consume.
In more recent times we have struggled to find themes that inspire a sense of community or encourage people to take part in community activities, even online discussions. In the future, the government’s ‘localism’ agenda may actually offer real powers to community associations such as ours. We have already made a lasting mark on the area with our tree-planting project, a civic initiative that will benefit local residents for the best part of a century at least. The civic stuff is the easy part, though. The conundrum is the community.
(These are my personal views, not those of the PCA.)