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Friday, 9 July 2010

Street Life

Yesterday we had our monthly residents' association meeting. Once a month on the second Thursday we turn up at the local pub to chew over developments in the street and neighbourhood. Sometimes the meetings are business like; at others they're a bit of an excuse to get out of the house and socialise.

We've lived in our house for 16 years, but only recently have we got to know people living in the street, other than our immediate neighbours.

A while back, when there was a development proposed at the end of the street which we felt would be totally out of keeping with our Victorian street scape, my wife and I organised a street petition. Over a couple of Saturdays Lesley visited every house to get their signature and met people who we'd never seen, even though they'd lived in the street for as many years as we had.

We formed an action committee and attended and spoke at the Planning Committee meeting that considered the development application. Surprisingly the Council threw out the application and on appeal the Council's decision was upheld by the national Planning Authority. However, the developer submitted a revised plan and we again trundled along to the Town Hall to make a further representation. Eventually, the Council granted the application with certain conditions, but the recession got in the way and the development has been on hold since early 2008.

Some of us thought that that experience had been valuable. Firstly, getting together we were able to,  in a slight way, influence the Council, or at least have a good bash at representing our views on an issue that had affected us all. Also, we'd got to know some of our neighbours and some have become good friends. But the idea of a residents' association didn't occur to us; although we did think that a "Neighbourhood Watch" might be worth pursuing - a spat of break ins and late disturbances - had raised concerns.

One of our neighbours leafleted the street, but the response was not good. So the idea was dropped. That is until a Salvation Army officer and his wife moved in to the street about 18 months. They went out of their way to meet and greet and in no time had organised a meeting to discuss the possibility of a "Neighbourhood Watch".  In fact as a result of that it was decided that we wanted something more than that and the idea of a Residents' Association was born.

It's been quite a success - mainly in getting people in the street meeting each other. We've organised Quiz Nights at the local pub, plants sales and even a Spring Street Clean at the end of March which had about 30 neighbours wielding brooms, dust pans and brushes. Others prepared hot bacon sandwiches, teas and hot toast and jam along with a bric a brac sale. Everyone in the street was presented with spring flower to plant.

Over the years we and few neighbours have bought trees to replace those the Council have removed. The Council have an "Adopt a Tree" scheme which for a one off payment of £150 get you  a tree and container. So far we've bought four and underplant them with seasonal flowers and maintain them. As a result of the Residents' Association events we now are well on the way to adopting another two trees.

We've set up a Facebook page and an e-mail network and are in the process of collating a list of recommended trades persons.Finding a trusted plumber, roof repairer or painter is one of the main talking points at the residents' meetings.

Coordinated street action does work. When our recycling wasn't collected for a couple of weeks a wave of e-mails from residents broke over  the Council officials' desks and Councillors and the prospective local MP weighed in.   

Oh,  and we're organising a street "Come Dine With Me". Now that will well and truly stress test our  community spirit!

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