Amy Rose and Jenny Sanderson run Bocadalupa – a Bristol-based performance and arts company focusing on socially engaged work. They have run several creative projects in association with Playing Out and talk here about a project earlier this year exploring neighbourhoods and neighbourliness.
Amy: In early February, Jenny Sanderson and I, as the artists in residence for Playing Out, asked people in two Bristol neighbourhoods, “Do you want to feel more at home in your own street?” “Do you want to make your street a more playful place?” These weren’t particularly new questions to ask, but what was new was the way we asked them and what we did when people answered. For anyone who answered ‘yes’, we arranged to go round and call for them at their house and went for a walk with them in their neighbourhood.
Just what makes a place feel more playable or a street more neighbourly and welcoming? What do you enjoy about your street? What draws your attention or interest? How does the speed and volume of traffic in your area affect how you use the street? How many neighbours do you know by name? If you looked through the eyes of a child, what ‘playable features’ would you see all around you? What in your street or neighbourhood, if anything, gives a message that children live here, that children are welcome, that play is possible?
The project “The Place I Call Home Spills into the Street” gave us a chance to explore these questions with people in their own neighbourhoods and to find out whether if, by doing small creative actions we could begin to experience our streets in new ways. All who took part were given a small, handcrafted ‘kit’ that included a booklet of small tasks to be done over a week and shared online. The tasks were simple things, easily done with or without children in tow, and taking no more than about 15 minutes, on their doorsteps, front gardens and pavements. And here’s what happened…..
Jenny: We started with the simple ‘task’ of opening the front door and going out and just spending a few minutes on or around the doorstep. It’s a thing we’re always banging on about, but it really works! Everyone who took part reported a positive shift in attitude towards their street and the people in it. This was followed by other small tasks, each with a slightly different focus. People shared photos or short reports online. Overall, they told us they felt ‘more aware’, ‘more keyed in’, ‘more tolerant’ and ‘more connected’. As a direct result of taking part, once-ignored front gardens are now play spaces, the front path is a play space, children hang off the garden gate and wave to the neighbours. In one street a babysitting circle sprang up and in another, a resident chalked love hearts all over the street for Valentine’s Day. Each task is a small adventure in itself and some were catalysts for other positive developments.
Amy: If you have been thinking about playing out on your street, you may want to consider starting close in. By that I mean, consider doing the really small thing that you would enjoy and that would bring you delight. The thing you can do within your means, within the busyness of your day, using the materials that you have to hand. You may think these are small things, but small things can be very powerful.
Jenny: When I first heard about Playing Out, I wasn’t sure about organising a playing out session. I lived in a cul de sac and thought something more spontaneous might just work here, so I approached it in another way. At first, I invited neighbours to meet up for weekly pavement play. No one came… but more crucially, I couldn’t always commit to my own arrangement! So instead, I sat out on the step to do some crochet while the children played in the front garden. I guess it was an unusual sight; one neighbour even asked if we’d been locked out! I stuck with it though, adding some tentative chalk drawing and even set up a semi-permanent ‘community skipping post’ (a rope with one end tethered to a fixed point). After about three years of doing these small things, it’s become really normal and I have regular chats with most of my neighbours. My children, ages five and eight, are able to play outside independently, and they are often joined by other local children. They can get their bikes out of the garage, chalk, play football, hide, hunt for wildlife up the lane and hang out the front. They know everyone in the street and do a good job managing emergencies such as a bike crash. The best part is that they choose when to do all these things.
Amy: If these ways of approaching playing out interest you, great! Go for it and let us know how you get on! The Facebook group is a great place to share anything you do, get inspiration and moral support. If you want a little nudge, have a look at Easy and Effortless things. We may run our project again so if you are interested in taking part in “The Place I Call Home Spills into the Street” in the future please email Playing Out and you’ll be the first to know!