It takes a village to raise a child is a well known proverb, attributed to African culture, which is commonly used to describe a belief that it takes an entire community of different people interacting with children in order for every child to fully flourish, and grow in a safe environment. This proverb has started to crop up in our conversations locally as we have begun to see explore a vision of Firs and Bromford as a village.
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 people look out for each other and care for each other. Much of our focus in Firs and Bromford for the past 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, 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, something we havn’t done as much of so far, and this is where the vision for Firs & Bromford Village has emerged.
Last weekend we held our annual big picnic outside the shops, which is a space we have begun to describe as our village green. At the event, whilst people are experiencing our village, we decided it would be a great opportunity to begin some wider conversations with our neighbours about the village vision, alongside giving people an opportunity to come and talk to Birmingham City Council, The Environment Agency, and HS2 Ltd about the physical work being planned. My reflections on this event, and our village vision will form part 2 of this blog.
Before that I wanted to reflect on a couple of things from another epic week leading up to the event which gave me a deeper understanding of the proverb it takes a village to raise a child, and made me believe we are already a village that takes care of each other, and thinks of every child as their own. The physical stuff like a new park, some new houses, improving our green spaces are all important and will improve village life, but fundamentally it’s the relationships that make the real difference.
A family in our community had been waiting for a long-time for one of their children to go into hospital for a major operation. It has been a traumatic wait, and the thought of the operation, although giving immense hope, was also a time of stress, worry and heart-ache. Upon the announcement of the date for the operation I witnessed what I can only describe as an outpouring of deep love from the community. There was offers of help, time, thoughts and prayers, and a deep sense that we all wanted to go ‘on the journey’ with the family through the ups and downs, crying together, laughing together, and loving together.
There was a request for prayer from the family. I felt we could offer a time for the community to pray together with the family. At Junk Food Kitchen we have a space for prayers after the lunch. We offered this as a time for those who pray to come together with the family, and it was an opportunity to show the deep feeling of love we have for each other. It is these moments that go beyond any roles, duties, projects, outcomes etc. In these moments we are real with each other, we are vulnerable, we give hugs, we wipe away tears, we offer help, and we are a community, a family, a real village.
On Friday evening there was a gathering where the family (both relatives and the wider community family) came together for a party. It’s what our community does! St. Wilfrid’s Community Centre, with hosts Karen & Steve, have become the home of our community parties including quizzes to raise money for MacMillan, Baptism after-parties, birthdays, talent shows, open mic nights, and regular karaoke nights, and family discos. The family wanted an evening, maybe for a few hours to forget what was to come, but most importantly to just have fun.
It was at this event whilst playing with all the other children, a child overheated and passed out. An ambulance was called and after an overnight stay in hospital he was released. This was traumatic and scary, with the community jumping in to provide first aid, support for the family, and just an overwhelming outpouring of love and care. The next day the family where so thankful for everything that everybody had done. Talking to another family member a few days later he was blown away by how everybody had responded, he said it was like the child was one their own.
When we started street connecting I didn’t imagine the depths to which the relationships would grow. This was perhaps the constraint of my imagination! In Firs and Bromford this is what has happened through bringing people together, developing connections, and nurturing community life. I believe the immense love and care for each other is what was already here to be unearthed, to be celebrated, and to be shared. It was happening in family units, in friendship groups, in community groups, in some streets, and the act of bringing people together has meant it has spread. Don’t read this thinking I believe we have got this all sown up and sorted. We are always learning new ways to show it, to experience it, and we are asking ourselves how do we invite more people to be part of it. The crucial thing is we value the importance of loving and caring for each other.
I ask myself is this something particularly prevalent here? Something unique about this place? My gut feeling says no, this is something that is everywhere, it just needs the relevant way of unearthing it, and connecting people together. Over the past few weeks we have been thinking what is the skill, the gift, the ‘job’ of a connector. We believe it is to go at the speed of trust, not push anything to quickly, and to help create the environments where a culture of love and care can be unearthed and flourish. Love and care is what is at the heart of a village that raises children who flourish.