Another Saturday night in. The Voice is on. My excitable kids are resisting bedtime. But mum and dad have cracked opened the Rioja and Twiglets … they know they’re onto a winner!
A neighbour’s email to our street’s Google-group pings in on my smartphone:
“Don’t mean to cause mass panic, but some guy just ran through our back garden, scaled our fence and climbed into next door’s. Not sure where he went after that. Probably worth keeping an eye out.”
I’m probably not selling my area as an idyllic place to live, which is ironic because in fact I love living here! That email reporting yet another too-close-for-comfort crime represents to me all that’s wonderful about my street. Why? Because it shows I live in a place where my neighbours look out for each other. We communicate and share – the good and the bad. Yes some of it is about the scary stuff. But on the up side – ever wanted a good local plumber or babysitter in a hurry? Or someone to feed the cat while you’re away? Living in Hackney such low level street crime (particularly phone and bag snatches) are part of the uneasy backdrop of life. It’s never happened to me or my family – but plenty of friends have been victims. Clusters of burglaries happen too, often while parents are on the school run.
Such requests are among the recent shout outs for help sent via our Google group. And guess what.. starting our playing out is what helped cultivate and sustain that spirit of camaraderie. Admittedly before we started the street play stuff – there was already a kernal of connected mums who knew each other, and also some older residents who were friends. But doing playing out helped connect a much wider group – including a lot of people who don’t have kids.
My street’s experience mirrors what happens in many other playing out streets. Vanessa Linehan, one of the first residents to introduce playing out sessions in Hackney says: “We now have a Facebook page with 73 members. Looking at the last three posts – one is from somebody wanting advice about dealing with damp (lots given!), one is from somebody wanting to give away garden equipment and a slide (the person who got the slide then posted a pic of her two-year-old twins using it!) and the other was somebody posting a photograph of our road in the 1950s. All brilliant and all because of playing out!”
Heike, a street organiser in Brighton has similar tales of neighbourliness – kickstarted by doing playing out.
“When I have done a call-out for paint trays, blenders, babysitters or onions I usually get an offer within five minutes.. The best turnout was four blenders in ten minutes! The latest one was a ‘call for an emergency banana’ for a lunch box at 8.15am. Someone brought it down to the street in an instant at 8.25am, on the way to nursery. In return we have done sitting of flats, babies and cats, or wallpaper stripping and dinner sharing.”
For my street – and the others who have shared their experiences – new and rich connections have grown from sharing time and fun on the street during playing out sessions. And they have changed the way I feel about living here for the better.
Claudia Draper supports residents in Hackney who are keen to get playing out started where they live. Do get in touch if you would like help and information – [email protected]. If you live in another part of the country email us at [email protected]