Mill Street Residents Association

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Mill Street Residents Association

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Informer

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Surrey Comet

 Surrey comet

This from The Daily Mail, the otherwise unremarkable national news paper !

Want to build community spirit and get all the gossip on your neighbours? Then throw a street party, as the 1950s craze is back

By Sadie Nicholas
Last updated at 10:30 PM on 13th August 2010

The laughter and chatter almost drowned the rattle of the tambourines as the colourful conga bobbed its way down the street of Victorian terraced houses and post-war semis.

Stretching almost the entire length of the road, it swayed as it was joined by neighbour after neighbour – a vet, a dance teacher, a gaggle of excited children, smiling grandparents, a businessman, a couple of musicians and a sound engineer – all shuffling together in the glorious summer sunshine.

This may sound like a scene from decades gone by, but in fact it took place one Sunday afternoon in an otherwise unremarkable suburban street in Kingston, Surrey, just weeks ago. 

Community spirit: The residents of Mill Street, in Kingston, Surrey, do the conga at one of their street parties

Community spirit: The residents of Mill Street, in Kingston, Surrey, do the conga at one of their street parties

Street parties are now making a massive comeback, with a 59 per cent surge in the numbers being held in the past two years alone.

As the recession bites, many of us are rediscovering our streets and neighbourhoods as not only a place to live, but also as a source of support and friendship – and a place to network.

This particular conga party was a farewell for Ken and Jenny, two residents of Mill Street, who have retired and are moving to Hong Kong. Accompanied by tambourines, the procession snaked its way to 15 different neighbours’ houses for refreshments and ended in a barbecue at Ken and Jenny’s house. 

Mill Street is no stranger to street parties, as one of the organisers, 42-year-old Tessa Kind, describes.

Tessa – a print buyer who lives in Mill Street with her husband, Andy, also 42, a visual effects supervisor, and daughters Peggy, 11, and Maddie, nine – says, ‘We have about five street parties a year, including big celebrations at Christmas and Easter.

‘I tend to organise a lot of the events with a group of other neighbours and, although there is a degree of informality about it, I do allocate certain jobs. With the Christmas party, I recruit a neighbour to be Santa and all the parents have to fill the grotto at the local pub with presents for the kids the night before.

‘We also have an Easter egg hunt – and street karaoke at Christmas, which was particularly fun last year as it had an angel theme and Anita, the 70-year-old secretary of our residents’ association, turned up in an angel costume, sporting huge cardboard wings.’ 

Bonding: Resident of Osney Island in Oxford enjoy afternoon tea on the towpath

Friendly: Resident of Osney Island in Oxford enjoy afternoon tea on the towpath

Mill Street also has a big picnic lunch in midsummer and an event called Millfest in September – an open-air concert with live music from local bands, a beer tent, tarot card readers, jewellery stalls and even Ferrari rides given by one of the neighbours who owns one.

Tessa adds, ‘It’s pretty much self-funding, like most of our parties, because residents donate their time – like the sound engineer who lends us his equipment or the printer who does the promotional material.

‘We buy the beer and wine with a kitty – and recoup the cost by selling it on the day. It’s enormous fun and has been a great way for me to make friends ever since we first moved into the street eight years ago.’

Tessa says that she particularly likes the fact that she has got to know so many interesting neighbours through the street parties.

‘One couple run an amateur dramatics group for residents and put on four performances a year including a pantomime in January. I usually get a phone call asking if I can find 20 kids on the street who would like to have little parts in the panto – last year it was Cinderella but sometimes they write their own. 

‘Everyone relishes the parties. I’ve met so many interesting neighbours  –  like the lady in her 60s who still lives in the house where she was born – albeit with husband number three’

‘There are also sisters who live next door to each other with their respective husbands and one of them, a die-hard Cliff Richard fan, has a double-decker bus in her back garden filled with Cliff memorabilia inspired by the film Summer Holiday.’

Mill Street is only one of an increasing number of streets up and down the country holding parties to celebrate significant events – or just as an excuse for a get-together.

As the street is not a through-road, no permission is needed to close the street, although permits are needed if a street party plans to sell alcohol or play music late at night. In any case, residents notify the council in advance of their plans, just to ensure there are no hitches.

The Mill Street residents have always found their local council very supportive – the Mayor turned up to a Cowboys and Indians party in all his regalia – only to endure a good-natured drenching from water-pistol-toting youngsters.

Another community with a lively tradition in street parties is Osney Island, Oxford, a collection of some 300 homes in the east of the city surrounded by the River Thames.

The residents – a mixture of commuting professionals, academics or those simply born and brought up on Osney Island – enjoy a film society that meets every couple of months in someone’s house, a boat club where they all use each other’s boats and kayaks for a small fee, a ‘stitch ‘n’ bitch’ sewing club and a weekly book club.

Resident Annabel Dunstan, 44, helps organise some of the street parties. Annabel, a joint managing director of a marketing firm, who lives on East Street with husband Richard Lewis, 49, a composer and director, and their children Megan, 11, and Lenny, nine, says, ‘Everyone relishes the parties. I’ve met so many interesting neighbours  –  like the lady in her 60s who still lives in the house where she was born – albeit with husband number three.

Lively tradition: A young music-lover listens to a guitarist play at an Osney Island street party

Lively tradition: A young music-lover listens to a guitarist play at an Osney Island street party

‘There’s also an award-winning architect, several environmentalists and even a cuckoo expert – I was watching a David Attenborough nature documentary recently and up popped my neighbour on screen. I wouldn’t have known he lived on the same road but for our regular parties.

‘The lock keeper is also a bit of a local hero. During the severe floods we had here in 2007, much of the area was under water – there were cars floating down the streets and houses and businesses flooded. It was a very worrying time but he stayed up all night keeping residents informed of what was going on.

‘My daughter has recently started writing a little newspaper called the East Street Echo and my husband plays the saxophone in the street when we all get together. There’s such a wonderful atmosphere.

‘Of course you can opt out of the street parties if you like – but not many people choose to. I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed them myself – as I’m quite a private person. In fact, I’ve found that it’s lovely to have an extended community – and not intrusive at all.

‘We lived in a village before we moved here – and it felt like everyone knew everyone else’s business. Here it’s different; there’s a balance.’

In London, too, where communities are notoriously less close than in other parts of the country, the street party has also been enthusiastically welcomed by families keen to forge friendships with their neighbours.

When 32-year-old Sophie Broadbent and her partner Jamie, 37, moved into Thornbury Road in Brixton three years ago, they didn’t know a soul.

But now, as Sophie, who works in TV post-production, says, ‘I know most of the other residents including a West End star, a world-famous dancer, a professional model, TV producers , fashion designers – and a hairdresser who does a roaring trade cutting residents’ hair.

‘London, like most big cities, can be a very lonely place, and when you’ve got busy careers and lives it’s easy to ignore what’s on your doorstep.’

Thornbury Road comprises around 70 Victorian terraced houses, some of them split into flats – and is home to a wide mix of residents. Older residents recall nostalgically the parties of the 1930s and 40s, but say that gradually families moved away. 

Inspired: Sophie Broadbent's neighbours include a West End star, a world-famous dancer, a professional model and a hairdresser

Inspired: Sophie Broadbent’s neighbours include a West End star, a world-famous dancer, a professional model and a hairdresser

From the 1980s life became busier and neighbours more reserved with each other – but now the ‘open-door’ atmosphere of the 1970s seems to be returning again, much to their delight.

Sophie was inspired to introduce a street party to Thornbury Road after reading about The Big Lunch, a nationwide initiative aimed at getting neighbourhoods to host a street party on a given date in July each year.

‘I knocked on every door on the street, introduced myself, told them what we were doing and that I didn’t want it to involve lots of organisation. My philosophy was that it should involve no more than putting chairs and a table outside each participating house,’ she explains.

‘On the first occasion in 2009, residents moved their cars to other streets and I put barriers up at the end of Thornbury Road to prevent anyone driving down it. As I turned around, two children were hurtling towards me on their bikes – with no traffic they had reclaimed the street in an instant.

‘It was heartwarming that so many residents did much more than sit out and eat lunch – some made bunting, others blew up balloons, did face painting for the kids or played music.

‘Having barely known a soul at the start of the lunch, by the end of the event we were all playing musical chairs. It just shows that although people are generally reserved, given the chance we relish the chance to get to know each other.

‘We’ve just repeated the street party this summer and it was, again, a resounding success with around 300 people. We’ve also had Halloween, Christmas and World Cup street parties. As a result, we’ve even formed groups that enable neighbours to swap garden tools, charity fundraising, and even job-finding – one of my neighbours is now working in my office.

‘Why did I initiate this? I want to stop rushing around so much and actually get to know people. Strong friendships have been formed as a result of our street parties.

‘Every day my life is touched by something that has come out of suddenly knowing 200 extra people, be it borrowing a book or garden shears, or collecting fresh eggs each Sunday morning from a couple on the street who have their own chickens.

‘I recently averted a potential disaster, too, when I popped in to say hello to a couple over the road and smelt a gas leak in their home.

‘In fact, the only downside of this amazing community spirit is that it takes much longer to go anywhere now because the minute I step outside the front door onto the street I see countless people I know!’ . 

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1302180/Want-build-community-spirit-gossip-neighbours-Then-throw-street-party-1950s-craze-back.html#ixzz0xJfstVdR

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