|The Oxenham House Neighbourhood Project
was about investigating and facilitating the social processes that
create the affective nature of community spirit. Trust, familiarity and
a sense of belonging are inextricably linked to frequent informal
social bonds and a shared dialogue among neighbours, and this project
created the opportunities to build up social ties through repeated
encounters, participatory research and collective action.
Neighbours had been complaining about the lack of neighbourly contact,
lack of respect and familiarity with each other, and the state of the
building and communal areas. People wanted to have plants and flowers
in the communal spaces, have the odd coffee morning, a bit of
collective gardening and looking after the place, but above all,
acknowledgement of each other and a bit more community spirit.
This project, then, involved creating opportunities for repeated
encounters in the communal areas first by hanging the washing, coffee
breaks, watering plants, and then by engaging in Tactical Urbanism – a
way of beautifying space through small-scale subversive activities.
Through the repeated encounters more conversations took place, which
built up familiarity and trust and helped identify common issues and
wishes. I then invited all neighbours to participate in the
photographic research (11 out of 17 did) and to co-produce images and
texts which were then shared with all in an exhibition/neighbours’
gathering in my flat. This meeting and sharing was intended for people
to get to know each other, build up familiarity and trust, and to
perhaps engage in future collective action. I also organised a
gardening day to address the wish to beautify the courtyard, and
together we transformed our courtyard during one day which was of great
importance to our community. The community spirt felt on that day
became part of our community memory – of tales to be relived and
retold. The need to maintain the garden as well as the need to contact
the council for maintenance also created further opportunities to meet,
engage and to have a sense of common purpose.
Since the project, neighbours have commented on how different they feel
about living here. The effervescence has clearly now worn off, and
during the winter days encounters are less frequent, but people are
familiar with each other and a lot more chatter and laughter can be
heard from the communal areas. Community is about social bonds and the
visceral nature of belonging and trust, and the Oxenham House
Neighbourhood Project has attempted to create this.
Some of the work has been exhibited at The Greenwich Gallery
(2015), in the Centro de Informação Urbana de Lisboa (Lisbon) as part
of Memory of Places (2016), and in
Conway Hall as part of the A Neighbours' Event exhibition
(2017/18) followed by a journal article in the Ethical Record.