On the beat with Community Action

It takes a Village to raise a Child – African Proverb

I was born and grew up in a village in Trinidad but I was certainly no country bumpkin! The village, Dow Village, was smallish in size but mighty in activity and life.

Diwali
Diwali Street Scene in Trinidad

We were very busy with several multi-cultural, multi-religious, traditional and modern activities, events and celebrations. As I look back at those early childhood years of village life on a Caribbean Island, I realise that we had a special community energy and participation in many aspects. We had bazaars and raffles to raise funds for various initiatives towards sports days, construction of buildings, treatment for unwell villagers, the Temple’s fund, local schools, re-enactment of Ramlila, Diwali Celebrations, Christmas, Eid-al-Fitr, Holi (Phagwah), street and house parties, and other events (please let me know if I forgot any!).  Some of the activities we held would entail selling fresh food, tea parties, Bar-B-Ques, Curry-Qs, playing games, and various entertainment ranging from sound systems to live music (such as tassa drums, Indian Orchestral to local Rock Bands). The village then was busy with life – it never felt boring or backwards.

Residents left their doors unlocked and gates open with low crime levels. Everybody knew everybody and it was used to our advantage – to build our community, to watch out for each other, to have pride in our neighbourhood.   There were bad points occasionally with fallouts but generally my village has stood the test of time. Up to now, I love my neighbours in Dow Village and I am sure that they love me too. We experienced everything from life to death and we can still touch base with each other wherever we are in the world with modern technology. Some of us may have left our villages for the wider world but David Rudder and Carl Jacobs sing in the Calypso ‘Trini to De Bone’:

“There’s no place like home some people say
Though some have to leave to make their way
But in their hearts I know their destiny
To come home and big up dey country” – Trini to De Bone.

I came to study in London over twenty-five years ago and lived in Hornsey and Tottenham initially. I used to hang out in Holloway, Highbury, Stoke Newington and Islington. It was interesting from the offset to experience so many cultures, tribes, languages and communities in North London. These ranged from North Londoners, Cockneys, Post-Punks, Irish, Greek Cypriots, Turkish, Kurdish, Nigerians, West Indians and lots more other ethnicities. It was a new melting pot for me to take in.

I eventually ended up in Walthamstow and was sceptical to move to East London as I had grown used to North and North East London. However, the timing was right again. Walthamstow still had affordable family homes, green spaces, and convenient travel links and a community feel about it. Moving to live here was a very good decision in the long term, and so the community story continues.

Walthamstow was recorded c. 1075 as Wilcumestowe (“the Place of Welcome”) and in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Wilcumestou. It does lie geographically on the edges of London and was a route between London and Waltham Abbey. Today that welcoming community spirit is still alive and kicking in Walthamstow. There are many remarkable things about the town and a few of them include:

  • The famous Walthamstow Market which is renowned for being the longest street market in Europe. I understand it has changed over the years but you can still get great bargains.
  • William Morris Gallery in gorgeous Lloyd Park, which was once the home of William Morris, world renowned designer, craftsman, poet, writer and socialist. His creations, ethos and influence are still relevant and inspiring today.
  • The Village area has old buildings and quaint houses which make you wonder about the past and the people who lived there. There lies too the Vestry House Museum which has permanent and temporary exhibitions, a community room and beautiful garden. I have been on guided walks with Joanne Moncrieff‘s Westminster Walks, who tells you all the facts about the buildings and area to bring them alive.
WGP-LPC2015
Storytelling by Mike at the Walthamstow Garden Party, The Lloyd Park Centre.

There are two community initiatives that I actively contribute to: The Lloyd Park Centre charity and the Poets’ Corner Residents Associations. Since 2004 at The Lloyd Park Centre, I have been a Management Committee and Fundraising and Events Group member. After many years thinking of helping in a local charity, the timing was right to start. I was inspired to get involved when I heard that this organisation was formed by volunteers in the 1980’s and still depended on community participation in its constitution, operation and strategic direction. It is also the lifetime commitment of inspiring Pauline Thomas MBE. The organisation’s history and commitment over the years is very admirable. In my time there, it has moved from portable cabins to an environmentally purpose-built designed building, and its financial turnover has doubled. I have seen it grow from strength to strength in offering children and family services such as day care, holiday clubs, baby clinics, Dad’s Club, Twins Club, Grandparents support, Autism support, outreach and a franchise of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Mobile Library to a deprived community.

I have volunteered consistently for all these years and have been very ‘hands on’ in attending regular meetings, helping when and where I can with my skills, knowledge and most of all…my time. Committee meetings are not so daunting as you are briefed and guided by the other committee members who are already there. As time goes by, I have learnt from the organisation and challenged myself to activities that I wasn’t aware I could do – for example, I cooked for 200 people in their kitchen for a fundraiser! Generally I plan, organise and run events in my own time and all other activities that a local busy charity requires. I have to hone in on my organisational skills as this is not my day job and from my use of social media – you can see what I get up too! As with everything, nothing stays the same and the organisation is constantly evolving, improving and taking on new challenges.

I am proud that when I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers I won a financial award for volunteering as part of their Community Affairs programme (Hello David!). They have a long history of Corporate Social Responsibility. I also have won the charity’s Volunteer and Fundraiser award a few times. However, it means a lot more than that to me. Over the years, my volunteering was a team effort to raise money and my goals really were to give support, help as much as I can and to be engaged in an organisation that has made a huge contribution to the local community and families for over 30 years. The last 12 years have been fun, satisfying and helped me developed outside of my day job and profession. It has relit that community flame that I had as a child in Trinidad.

Child is the Father of Man – William Wordsworth

I was made redundant about four years ago when I needed to re-focus my energies and give back to the place where I live once again. Luckily I had the time to volunteer in my neighbourhood residents associations when we were planning our London 2012 ‘Milimpics’ street party. We have our own Poets’ Corner blog and social media channels that have been going since 2012. We have since rebranded to Poets’ Corner E17, as there are streets named after Poets and we are on a corner. We have been constantly engaged in transformational regeneration initiatives that are happening on our doorsteps!

We are also very keen to support local businesses and love our high street. I have seen derelict shops being taken over as pop-up shops to permanent retail outlets. In the last few months – there are several new high street shops emerging such as coffee shops, art shop, craft beer, chocolate shop, giftware, Italian deli and hairdressers. Local venues Ye Olde Rose and Crown, The Bell Pub and Mirth Marvel Maud are used as meeting social places and also are at the heart of the nightlife. The last five years have been amazing, heart-warming, social and definitely local.

 

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Little Free Library Project – in Poets’ Corner.

We have continued the spirit of London 2012 Olympics with many activities including an annual street party simultaneous as the national Big Lunch celebrations, spring cleaning (which has made me obsessive about dumped rubbish and litter!), crime-watching, Halloween Party, Puppet Show and fabulous Christmas Carolling on the street. We have also taken part in the magnificent E17 Art Trail which has made us work collaboratively to display Estate Agents boards as ‘Poets for Sale’ with poems in our front gardens. For the 2015 project, we created ‘I want to tell you a story…’ stories on places on Walthamstow. Residents Barry and Lesley Coidan have been the driving force for a lot of these initiatives and deserve special recognition and appreciation. Before I forget to mention – we also have two Little Free Libraries in the neighbourhood, which started in Walthamstow for the United Kingdom (original idea is from the USA).

poets-for-sale

 

Why am I telling you this? I enjoy taking part in community events. I also think there is a special energy that I have been lucky to experience in my homeland of Trinidad many years ago, and here now in Walthamstow. It is very fulfilling and reassuring that we have neighbours and people in the community that we can rely on, pull together and to contribute to our society on wider urban issues, such as crime prevention, sustainability, environment, economy, culture, festivities and general awesomeness.  You just have to remember the terrible London riots of 2011 to recall what it is like when neighbourhoods fall apart and communities are at threat when you take your eyes of the ball.

I don’t have my own business but if I did – it would be based on the arts, crafts or food in the community. Volunteering has made me certain about that and myself. With Utopian and socially ethical views, I would feel compelled to consider where I live, the people it is going to affect, how we can work together to make our part of the world better for ourselves but also for my immediate neighbours.

Anyway, I really love taking part in the fun, and all the exciting energy and buzz of Walthamstow. We are celebrating our next Brazilian theme street party soon in tuned to the Brazil 2016 Olympics. And so the beat goes on, and on.

2 thoughts on “On the beat with Community Action

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