Today we started to make a container garden outside our block of flats. We’ve been talking about doing it for months and then our neighbour, Wes, plonked a couple of containers down and the blank wall just came to life. After that it was a no-brainer and we bought and borrowed some pots and brought things down from the allotment to make a start. This is a community project that just seems to have spread right down the street. The majority of front entrances now have displays outside – some of them really beautiful. I put this photo up on the residents’ app a few minutes ago and got 5 likes within minutes so maybe others will want to join in.
We’re massively lucky to live right in the centre of Bath, but this is also an area of great deprivation with a lot of social housing and – as I’ve written before – big problems caused by drugs and alcohol, with ambulances being called almost daily. On the plus side we have a big patch of green outside which, in hot weather, becomes a favourite venue for parties and barbecues. I have an entirely personal theory that the nicer we make the area look, the better people will behave, so this is our street campaign to make this area family friendly and welcoming. There are no rules, no committee, no chief executive and no competitions. Occasionally we organize, but more often than not some kind of street party just happens spontaneously. One of our neighbours will sit out on the broad Georgian pavement with a bottle of wine and before you know it there are half a dozen of us. Most of us live in some kind of social housing and we have a tremendous mix of musicians, teachers, nurses and even a couple of retired professors along with the retired and unemployed all with different and interesting backstories.
I titled this piece “For want of a nail … ” because this traditional rhyme brings home one of the most critical issues in our society. The neglect of tiny things can often have catastrophic consequences. Loneliness and isolation are endemic, especially among older and poorer people and the cost of neglecting it is prodigious. In the current environmental crisis we are losing species every day and we have absolutely no idea which of those losses will prove critical, so every little wildlife garden we create, every journey we make using public transport, every action we take to build stronger communities, every small act of kindness could just make the difference.
Covid had a terrible effect on community life and just about every voluntary organisation has suffered. Many people are still scared of crowded places and it will take a long time to mend the damage. These small instances of community action are also acts of resistance against the ideology that preaches that there’s no alternative to the neoliberal economic orthodoxy that loads the burden on to the poorest and most vulnerable families. The mere existence of functioning neighbourhoods and communities that are maintained by the people who live in them and share their experience and good fortune freely are anathema to our Gradgrind government.
In many ways living here feels like a return to the sixties and seventies. There are very few advantages in being old, but one of them is the experience of communal living at its best and worst, and understanding that if something needs doing you can just do it. It’s amazing what can be achieved without grant support and official recognition. But if we wait for the politicians to change things it’s all over for human life on earth.