Street champions to street proud
When I was working at Lambeth, I helped design how people could recycle more. We went out onto an estate to find out how people recycle and what would encourage them to re-use more of the stuff they’d otherwise throw out. The stall next to ours was the local tenants and residents association and on the right was freshly cooked grub made by the locals. There was also the nearby church group and people from the housing association. Kids were running around in between getting their face painted and getting their photo taken by the local copper. Behind all of these activities is the local street champion who help organise the day.
Street Champions are everywhere. They’re the people who check on elderly neighbours when the weather’s cold; who take parcels in when the recipients are out; who care about their street and want it to be a clean, safe and neighbourly place. If you are one of these people, the council can help you to make your community spirit go even further.
They are people who check on and who get access to support for all sorts of activities, from tackling issues such as litter to dog fouling to organising community play events and street parties like the one I was at.
The Street Champions scheme was recently piloted on a number of Lambeth streets to see if it could get neighbours better connected, and together achieve cleaner and happier streets. And you know what — it worked! So much so that it’s now going borough-wide. But to do that they wanted a bit of help from the Made in Lambeth community.
Fed with tasty pizzas from Franco Manca and watered with beer from the Brixton Brewery, Street Champions, designers, community organisers, artists, students and people interested in looking after their street got together at Hub Brixton to develop ways that Street Champions could go global…sorry I mean, across the borough.
From writing limericks to send friendly messages about not dog fouling to “open for tea” stickers, the principles developed by the Made in Lambeth community were to:
1. Trust and tap into the identity of the street
There may be people on your street who’ve lived there for years, who can tell you about it’s history, the stories of the people who live there…in other words the identity of the neighbourhood.
It can be daunting for people to go door to door to introduce themselves and the Street Champions initiative to their neighbours, but it’s a way of finding what makes the street tick. Getting in touch with other street champions helps new champions find out how they’ve broken the ice with neighbours and feel part of a community.
2. Encourage neighbours to interact and meet one another
People may care about their streets, but may not have the time or feel the need to organise or lead in the way Street Champions do. Tap into what motivates people to look after their streets, whether it’s helping neighbours who feel strongly about an issue to start a campaign or organising a community cleanup. The council could help street champions broker this by matching up people with what they’d like help developing (i.e. getting to know neighbours) and what they’d like to help others with (i.e. fundraising).
3. Enable everyone to feel they’re “street proud”
Street Champions is one way that people can show they care about their streets, but there are many other ways, but often people don’t know where to start. Get people fired up by sharing the stories of how people are looking after their street, be that running successful campaigns, street parties or just getting fly tipping removed.
4. Encourage people to change their behaviour in simple and playful ways
Through testing out different ways of encouraging people to look after their streets, Street Champions could share that insight so that local services could identify what would motivate people in their street to get involved in the commissioning or delivery of a service.
5. Use creativity to spark engagement and test interventions
By getting feedback from their neighbours about how local services could be improved, Street Champions get to spend time navigating council processes. How about showing how they’re using workarounds to get council services to improve the way they work? And the services showing how they’ve used the feedback to make a difference.
You can see that the boundaries between what Street Champions do and what local services to look after their streets can be blurred. But it’s better to create ways for people to self-organise and collaborate in ways that work for them, than to prescribe how to be good citizens. How could councils help Street Champions access other local resources? They could:
Support and connect local groups who are helping people look after their streets in different ways (i.e. Remakery re-uses disused materials) with street champions
Help street champions crowd fund and explore match funding (with cash or skills/space) activities put forward by them where there is critical mass of street residents
Facilitate collaboration between street champions and people with skills that could help people look after their street, from artists to local makers
That is what Made in Lambeth does too, bringing people together from different backgrounds, not only developing solutions to local challenges but use the resources in the neighbourhood to make them happen, from redesigning a sexual health service to taking a local currency to the next level.
Creating new forms of collaboration that taps into what gets people fired up about what they care about and which values the skills and time they want to contribute, is an end in itself, as it gets people to better understand the world around them and build connections with people they might not have otherwise said hello to on the same street. But it’s also the start of a process about how citizens and the institutions that serve them want to work together and negotiate how they share responsibility for the places they lives in.