8 days in the life of a street connector

Screenshot 2018-06-10 18.00.29

In the early hours of Saturday I sent a tweet as my ‘end’ to what had been an epic 8 days in our community. I did feel broken (well very emotionally and physically tired) but also fully alive and full of hope. In that moment I wasn’t ready to ‘download’ the events of the past 8 days I just needed rest! Since then I had a couple of lovely days off, and now feel in a place to reflect upon the stories of hope that emerged and give a small insight into the role of being a street connector mentor.

Day 1 (Friday)

Today is our first street event of the year. My blog about our Street Events gives an insight into what we do and why we do them. It was great to see so many people coming out on what became a lovely sunny day. My highlight was welcoming a neighbour who’d only just moved in 3 weeks ago. I was able to introduce her to a neighbour I know who lives in her block, who is one of the most welcoming and caring people I know. What didn’t surprise me was she’d already met this neighbour because she’d introduced herself when she moved in. It was lovely to see them chatting and that the street event had given them an opportunity to get to know each other better.

Day 2 (Saturday)

Today is an epic day with 2 events back to back. Firstly our second street event, and later our Hodge Hill Big Iftar.

The street event was fantastic. The venue today is a smaller space than yesterday which I felt brought more connectedness. The local residents around the square brought tables, chairs, and lots of food. It really created a wonderful feel of a community table where we broke bread together. One interesting aspect was some of the residents who came along had been involved in the community in the 1970’s and 80’s running community groups, street parties, events, and trips. What I found encouraging was that their stories resonated with the stories we are creating today.

In the evening we had our second annual Hodge Hill Big Iftar. In the spirit of community and friendship Hodge Hill Community Centre (a local place where Muslims pray and do community), invited us to join and share the breaking the fast together. For us it is a wonderful opportunity to bring neighbours from a range of backgrounds together with our Muslim neighbours, and provide a space for them to share something of their faith. We have found this has brought extra depth to our relationships together, and definitely something we want to build upon.

The evening began at 9.15pm with the time of fast breaking (with dates, fruit, water) & Maghrib prayers at the Hodge Hill Centre. We then moved onto the Big Iftar meal at St. Wilfrid’s Community Centre at around 9.45pm. With over 100 people attending (including around 50 children) at such a late time in the evening it makes trying to bring connectedness amongst everybody very hard, but it felt that amongst the tables there was an overwhelming feeling of joy, generosity and sharing. We even had our local MP mucking in to serve the food. In Firs and Bromford we don’t stand on ceremony, we just be community together.


Day 3 (Sunday)

After 2 epic but long days I was thankful for a day off. I attended my church which meant some good connecting with my church family. I connected with a few people reflecting upon the Iftar the night before which was nice.

Day 4 (Monday)

Today began with opening up the hub for our awesome Flavours of Hodge Hill cooking class (there will be a future blog telling this story). Flavours was started by Racheal and Saira who had become friends at The Real Junk Food Kitchen, and wanted to use cooking to bring people from a range of backgrounds together. This has quickly become another important space for connecting, sharing, and for community building. Today someone taught everybody how to make a slimming world friendly Chinese curry, which I was happy about. All the food we have in our community isn’t great for my waistline! I also knew how much food I was going to be consuming during the rest of the week.

Whilst this was happening, today’s big task was to begin the newsletter delivering to every door in our community. This involved getting newsletters to all the people who’d offered to deliver them and try to plan that every house gets one. Also squeezed in was line management, and later in the afternoon Hodge Hill Cuppa. Hodge Hill Cuppa is a weekly activity we do at local schools serving tea, coffee, and squash to the families after-school. For us this is a space we create to give people a tiny experience of community (hopefully so they want more!), and a space to catch up with people. This isn’t always possible when 100’s of children want squash but we are working on it! What is good is to just provide a regular time of ‘presence’ with people.

Day 5 (Tuesday)

Today began with ‘The mystery of the missing garden equipment’! 2 weeks ago some equipment had been stolen from a local community gem, Ambridge House garden. The garden is the fruits of local people wanting to create a beautiful green space amongst the tower blocks and housing. The theft had hit the guys who make so much happen as a real blow, and in particular they felt sad and angry because one piece (a statue of a cherub) was a memorial to someone we lost recently. After school drop-off one of our active community members wanted a quiet word with me because the equipment had been found in someone’s garden! To my amazement it was the equipment bold as brass displayed in a garden not 5 mins walk from Ambridge House. I couldn’t believe it! I went straight to let the guys at Ambridge House know, and they informed the police. I was hopeful we would get the stuff back.

The afternoon was about the street connectors getting out to deliver the newsletters. It was great to get the team out not just pushing them through the doors but also chatting to people on the way, and having a laugh with each other. Delivering the newsletters can be just a great way of getting people involved, and doing it with others can be a great chance to chat. Whilst out we also had chance to help someone move a big chair into their flat, and catch-up with a couple of people we hadn’t seen for a while.

In the evening, we welcomed Cormac Russell & Jane Perry back to our community, Both are journeying with us helping us tell our stories, make the connections between the stories, and understand the impact we are having. The evening was for the Together We Can ‘practitioners’ giving us a space to reflect about our roles, the different activities we are involved in and get a sense of where we feel the project is at. These are incredibly inspiring and encouraging gatherings, but also challenging because we are opening ourselves up to questions and challenge.

Day 6 (Wednesday)

Today we gathered together a collection of some of the residents who are playing a huge role in building community here in Firs and Bromford. In his latest blog Al Barrett (local vicar, Open Door Director, FBNT board member, and fellow ABCD travelling companion) gives his reflections upon our day together:

Reflecting together

On Wednesday, 21 friends and neighbours spent a couple of hours together, with a couple of visitors (who are also dear friends and travelling companions): Cormac Russell and Jane Perry. The 21 of us were there because we’ve all properly swept up in the movement of community-building here. Our two visitors were there for good reasons too: Cormac to offer a few simple questions to invite us into reflection and conversation, and Jane to listen carefully to what we said, and to write some of it down to help us not forget!

We began with naming what we loved about living and spending time in our neighbourhood. People mentioned the passion, enthusiasm and commitment they saw around them; seeing people grow and flourish through getting involved with each other; walking down the street and always bumping into people to talk to; knowing you can come to any of our community places and find a warm, non-judgmental, ‘overwhelming’ welcome, a place to belong; and a ‘community spirit’ where everyone pulls together to make stuff happen.

But what is it that has made this happen? In some neighbourhoods, disasters like floods can ‘precipitate’ people coming together, at least for a time. What is the ‘positive flood’ that has ‘precipitated’ the growth of community in our neighbourhood? And how will we get more stories of involvement and belonging here? We talked about the importance of visibility – getting really close to people’s doorsteps and walking routes – so that passers-by can see what’s happening, and be drawn in out of curiosity. We named the importance of invitation, of telling our stories of life-changing experiences of community and inviting others to come and experience it too. We talked about the infectiousness of community – “caring is catching”, someone said – and the way what people see, they might try to copy: “maybe I could do that”, or “I want a bit of that!”. And we reflected on how that desire, once caught, makes us want to go deeper: we experience welcome, we discover we can contribute, and we want more of it… One of the golden threads through it all was that we were never trying to ‘sell’ something, never trying to ‘fix’ people, but simply wanting to say, always: “you’re welcome – we can’t do without you”. And we finished our time together by saying that to each other, in gratitude – with the specifics of the particular gifts that we’ve seen, that we’ve received, in and from each of those present.

As someone who’s shared this journey with my neighbours for the last 8 years (some of my friends and neighbours have been at it longer!), it moved me to tears to be reminded how far we’ve come together, as a neighbourhood. And to hear individual stories of their journeys into greater confidence in themselves, connection to their neighbours, and belonging to this thing we call ‘community’.

“ABCD is about the creation of authentic community life, where everyone is welcomed; gifts are discovered & fragility is accepted. It recognizes life’s challenges & with audacity seeks connection.

It’s that authenticity that rang true for me, again today, in the community of Firs & Bromford, where local residents spoke of a renewal of community life. They shared stories about how they are re-hatching and re-weaving community spirit: conversation by conversation, street party by street party, and through indoor and outdoor places of welcome. It’s an uncommon story which is not about fixing, funding or fighting. But rather, is about care, compassion and connection. I am both honoured and moved every time I visit this community, it gives me hope that an alternative future is just two door knocks away. It starts on our street, not Wall Street. Go Firs & Bromford!” (Cormac)

Al Barrett’s Blog ‘We’ve come a long, long way together: community, depth & ‘wow’ moments’

It was a wonderful couple of hours of sharing together, affirming all that is happening, and exploring how we create more stories. It felt another significant step in our journey together here in Firs & Bromford.

During the early evening I had a knock at my door. A member of the community handed me a black bag and a statue of a cherub. He said he’d gone around to the house where the garden furniture was, explained that this stuff had been stolen and that the statue was a memorial. He said to me he just wanted the stuff returned! I walked the bag of equipment and statue down to Ambridge House and put it back in its rightful place. Mary and Elaine were so thankful that it had returned, especially the statue. I was just overwhelmed that some of our neighbours had the courage to speak up and take action against an injustice! I thought this is what being a community is about, caring so much about your fellow neighbours that you are willing to put yourself in a vulnerable position to ensure the right thing is done.

Day 7 (Thursday)

Today was The Real Junk Food Kitchen Read a previous blog about The Real Junk Food Kitchen. We hadn’t done the lunchtime session for a couple of weeks so it was great to get back together again. There was a lovely feel about the day. The Real Junk Food Kitchen has become such a valued space for community, and a space for so many people to contribute to making community happen. It was good to be back!

In the evening we had our second Iftar, this one a much smaller affair but actually one that felt more significant. Saira, who has been our friend for a long-time through Women’s Group and recently starting Flavours of Hodge Hill, wanted to put-on an Iftar for those people involved in the Hub, and been involved in Flavours. Saira wanted to cook for us (which she has been doing for years!) but also wanted to share something deeply important for her. We gathered together and Saira, accompanied by friend Zahreena, talked us through the rituals of breaking fast, and why is so important for her and for Muslims around the world. It was a fantastic time to just be with each other, enjoy each others company and celebrate the friendships that have been made. Plus the food was yummy as always!

Day 8 (Friday)

Today started with a meeting with Diane, one of our local councillors, about our village vision for Firs & Bromford. Over the past few years a vision of Firs and Bromford as a ‘village’ has emerged through our conversations. What does a thriving village need; Good community spaces for all ages, green spaces, parks, schools, healthcare, shops, post-office, places of worship, transport networks, access to jobs, good quality housing, and a village green at the heart of the neighbourhood. At the heart of the village is a community spirit where we people look out for each other and care for each other. Much of our focus for 10 years has been around the nurturing of the community spirit and a growing ecology of people and places. In the next 10 years there is going to be some major physical developments in our community including a new flood defence along the river Tame, at least 225 new houses being built by Birmingham City Council and the Bromford tunnel for HS2. We believe there is an exciting opportunity for us to work together on the physical elements of our community. This is where the vision for ‘Firs & Bromford’ Village has emerged. We are hosting a consultation event this weekend as a part our annual Big Lunch. We want people to experience the village green while talking about future possibilities.

Afterwards we walked around with Jonathan, who works for Birmingham City Council’s Parks department. We’ve been meeting with him as part of our Village partnership meetings and he has been inspired by our idea vision. He has latched onto the heritage of the Firs & Bromford (in particular that is used to be a racecourse) and wants to use this as a theme for a walking route that links up our green spaces and community assets. It was great to walk with him and see his ideas synergise with ours, and also see him getting animated and excited about the opportunities. In Firs & Bromford we even value and find space for the skills and passion of council officers!

My epic 8 days ended with our first ever Firs & Bromford’s Got Talent. This was the vision of two of our community heroes Karen & Steve Priestley. Over the past 18 months we have tried an open mic night which gave local people an opportunity to share their talents. Although this wasn’t something that was sustainable, it did give us couple of X-Factor-esque ‘wow’ moments as we unearthed some amazing hidden talent in our community. It inspired Karen & Steve to start regular adult and family karaoke nights at St. Wilfrid’s which has continued to provide a space for people to perform and unearthed a few more people along the way. Karen and Steve wanted to take this to another level by hosting a talent show for the community, and my word they took it to another level!

Al Barrett reflects on the talent show in his latest blog:

Celebrating talent

And then on Friday night we had our very first ‘First & Bromford’s Got Talent’. It’s an event we’ve been talking about for a few years here, but now was its time. Looking back, we could trace the journey from the beginnings of the Bromford Theatre Group (which continues to flourish and surprise!), through a fragile, fun but short-lived community choir, into some ad hoc jamming sessions in the corner of a weekly cookery group, which germinated a monthly ‘open mic night’ at St Wilfrid’s Community Centre, which in turn became a weekly ‘family disco’… and finally this glorious evening celebrating the gifts of Firs & Bromford in music, dance and poetry.

Hosted again in the wonderful St Wilf’s, the talent and creativity (children and adults alike) on show was impressive by any standards. What left me an emotional wreck by the end of the night, though, was much more than the stunning talent. Knowing even a little of the journeys and battles that many of the contestants (both adults and children) had been on to get onto that stage on that Friday night, I was in awe and wonder at their courage and determination, their raw vulnerability and yet the sheer dignity and pride of standing up there, showing us something of their spirit, their soul, their God-given essence. Some of those who got up and performed had fought more than just nerves to do what they did. And in the end, the ‘competition’ wasn’t really a competition at all: each and every one of them was cheered on – willed on, hoped and prayed on – by each and every one of us in the audience, and we were heart-burstingly proud of all of them – we’d have made them all joint winners if we could have done. Our role, collectively, was encourager, cheerleader, celebrant of the wonderful gifts of our neighbours – the wonderful gifts that are our neighbours. We’ve come a long, long way together.

“Wow what an amazing and emotional night celebrating all the talent in our community. Songs, dance, poetry by children and adults. … We came to live in this community hoping we could make a difference but whatever we’ve managed to contribute is absolutely nothing compared to what this community has done for me. Learning to receive the gifts of my neighbours has been one of the revelations of my life. When I’m here I genuinely believe another world is possible.” (Tim)

“It was a brilliant night. And everyone was amazing. When we go to things like this it’s like one big family – everyone is happy, talking, playing, just how it should be I love it, well done to everyone xx” (Louise)

“I don’t think I’ve felt so many emotions in one evening since I had my children, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve felt happy, sad, overwhelmed, blessed, in awe………..” (Julie)

I would just re-iterate Al’s comments about just knowing a little of the stories of some of the contestants, the battles they face, and the courage they showed to even show up let alone give us the performances they did. I don’t think we will ever truly know the impact of Friday night. I think it will live-on in the lives of some people, and be the inspiration for amazing things to come. It was way more than a talent contest, it was a living breathing example of how far we have come. We are a community where we can provide moments of absolute beauty, show the world what an incredible place we are, a community filled with talent, and most importantly a community with abundant love, care, joy, compassion, friendship and hope!

One of the songs performed was ‘This is Me’ from the film The Greatest Showman (If you havn’t seen it then I could not recommend it more highly). The lyrics made me think of how far we have come as a community. The past 8 days a intense snap-shot with so many moments where our community has shone. But that hasn’t always been the way. For many years Firs & Bromford was viewed as the ‘broken’ estate (by people outside let me make clear) and looked down upon. For some this is still the case, but I believe this view is changing, and this change has come from within, it has come from those who know Firs & Bromford is a great place to live, a place where people do look after each other, and a place where we can all flourish.

I believe it’s been the connecting together of people, and the encouraging of people to be who they are meant to be that has caused a ‘positive flood’ that has precipitated the growth of ‘community’, and has seen the growth of a movement of people that will be glorious, who are breaking down the barricades and reaching for the sun.

And we’re marching on to the beat we drum

we’re not scared to be seen

we make no apologies, this is us!

‘This Is Me’
I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh
Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades and
Reaching for the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that’s what we’ve become (yeah, that’s what we’ve become)
I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh
This is me
and I know that I deserve your love
(Oh-oh-oh-oh) ’cause there’s nothing I’m not worthy of
(Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh)
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
This is brave, this is proof
This is who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come (look out ’cause here I come)
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum (marching on, marching, marching on)
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I’m gonna send a flood
Gonna drown them out
This is me
Songwriters: Justin Paul / Benj Pasek
This Is Me lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

To find out more about street connecting and the community building we are doing in Firs & Bromford please take a browse of or Stories

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