If you are lucky enough to own a house then you should try and use it as a community asset. Lots of people don’t have that, so how can you utilise that in different ways? As a household we think that you have to create community it doesn’t just happen so we have put a lot of effort in. The first thing that we did when we moved in here was to invite all of the neighbours around and had tea and cake. We invited about 30 people.
I grew up in a house where my parents knew everybody on that road. They live on a main road but they have an alleyway that runs up the back of the houses that they call a back passage (lol) and every year for as long as I’ve been alive they do a back passage BBQ! Someone would hire a bouncy castle that would sit on one of the drives, we would line another with tables and chairs, and have a massive bbq with all the neighbours, so for me it is just the way to do things.
When Coronavirus hit we were in lots of street WhatsApp groups I was working from home and put up a sign thanking key workers and made a banner for outside. It was basically cartoon pictures of lots of key workers and we tried to match them to the people in the community, so the Postman on our banner looks like our Postman.
Around the time that Priti Patel had said all of that horrible stuff about people not being able to enter the country, so we decided to do something for may day, she had said those things just before then. The banner that you saw on the side of the house is actually a take on an 1800’s banner called ‘May Day Garland for Workers’. It’s quite a famous image that is used quite a lot, so I took that image and replaced the words in the garland to the low skilled workers that Priti Patel had screwed over earlier in the year. So that was my attempt at that picture. So we did that and then also we had a banner collecting food for food banks.
We organised our street on WhatsApp and said that we would collect things which would then get collected by a guy who had masterminded the whole thing in the area. He would collect everything then drop it off at 4/5 different food banks. We started on the 9th of April and since then we have done 186 bags.
There’s a guy who has basically master minded all of the food bank stuff and he was basically saying if you have a street WhatsApp group, message there and someone can collect the food. So every Saturday, he drove around the whole of Chorlton picking up the odd bag from various other places. We also ended up taking things to St Johns which is a food distribution centre. It was working as a food hub during the Covid crisis, we would do that once a week.
At the beginning of lockdown the need spiked massively as people couldn’t get out of their houses and then it petered out a little. I think it’s about to get a whole of a lot worse if I’m honest. I think there are a lot of people thinking lockdowns over, things are going to get a lot better, but lockdown being over, means the furlough schemes going to end, which now a load of organisations and companies that were keeping people on because of the government support are just going to cut loose.
We’ve been having the discussion about when to take it down, because people don’t stop donating. Our hall is constantly full of food. I have to drive it each week. We had lots of discussions around what does this mean, are we in it for the long haul? The guy who organised it has stopped his contribution, he managed to raise 6 grand in the end.
We have regular people who donate, and people who have maybe been in isolation who will knock on and chat about their donations. It’s nice because we are on a main road, I find a lot of wanting to volunteering at food banks can be quite intimidating logistics wise; where do you go, how do you do it, etc. But if you’re just walking or driving past a house it makes that easy for you. It is quite handy.
I think that words and art is something that definitely brings the community together more. In our last house we put a big community mural on the wall. We did it with the whole community, Mural Life who’s actually the artist he lives on the next road over, and Lem Sissey gave us the poem. He’s the Vice Chancellor of Manchester University, he wrote the poem. So all of the birds came from door knocking on the doors of 300 people in the area and asking what their favourite birds were, either from where they were originally from or from the local community. So all of the birds have quite a significant meaning, the humming bird is the bird of Jamaica, the the Robin in Irish cultures is meant to represent lost loved ones coming back to visit. The African parrot was quite a common pet for south Asian residents in the area. Kingfishers are quite popular in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan and there was also an Owl. Lem gave us the poem, he used to live in Old Trafford. So we did that in about… 2017.
The arena bombing happened 4 weeks afterwards and the week after that Tommy Robinson, the awful guy from EDL, came to the mosque around the corner and threatened to cut someones ears off with a machete, it was horrendous. There was a lot of upset and distress in the community so we decided to be really, really explicit about what we were doing. It had to be community owned. What does it mean for the rest of the community? We didn’t just want it to be a nice piece of art, we wanted to have the meaning by which it was intended, it’s a really diverse area. It has a high Polish population, there are 8 Mosques, 5 churches, a Buddhist health centre a Sikh temple, a Hindu temple, all within about 10 minutes walk of each other. We wanted something that demonstrated that. We spent part of our funding money on a community party, so when he started painting, everyone was out. There were bouncy castles, sharing food, and OT creative space did an art class making birds out of milk bottles that everyone hung in the trees around the local area. Then for a couple of years, whilst we used to live there we used to do a birthday party for the mural where we would invite people to bring and share. It was the first time that we had street parties. Some people knew each other and had been there for years and others didn’t, we were quite new to the area. We knew the neighbours after we did it and everyone wanted to get involved, it was nice.