As many of you know, I have been involved in growing a living advent calendar down my street (at least that's where it started). This story originated from someone sharing at a workshop what they were doing with their neighbours in Kingsholm. The story came from Nicola, a Community Organiser who had met a Swiss lady who wanted to share the Swiss tradition of Advent Fester, which essentially involved creating a living advent calendar. After hearing her story I thought that sounded like a fun way to connect with my neighbours.
After asking my neighbours 'who wants to take part?', all the windows were adopted by local residents, with the last four being taken right at the last minute. I had originally tried to keep it just on the surrounding streets, but more people wanted to get involved, so anyone across Coopers Edge was invited to get involved. As we got into the idea I soon discovered the effort people were going to before even launching their window. I placed a simple sign in the window to say we are taking part (22nd Dec), whilst others have been decorating their number and even wrapping bows around their front doors and houses in preparation for their opening.
In decorating their window, people have been asking each other for advice, from practical stuff around 'how did you get your lights to stay up' through to 'can I borrow your chalk pens to paint my window?' and offers to call round and help each other out when the creativity dried up! There have been some very creative contributions....
So we're only half way through, but people are starting to walk around the community to visit the windows and treat it like a little treasure hunt around the community. As a new community there aren't that many places to walk to, apart from the school, playgrounds, a supermarket (about a mile away) and the surrounding countryside, so the Christmas windows create another reason for people to visit roads and streets they would never have otherwise gone down. It has also created a talking point which has got people into conversation with each other, not least because some of the windows are tricky to find! In many ways this has turned out to be a bit of a community art project, although I certainly wouldn't describe myself as an artist! However, it is public art in its truest sense!
The other interesting point has been a few people hosting an event to launch their window. There haven't been many of these, but one house offered a hot chocolate to anyone who wanted to call in, and another offered sweets to any children who knocked on their door that day. I get a sense that people are willing to make tentative steps to meet neighbours and contribute to making their community an interesting place to live. With 24 homes involved, and others who have been actively touring the windows I now left thinking if there is a way of bringing all those involved together, and is that something those involved want?
As I mentioned at the start, this idea was borrowed from some residents in Kingsholm (thank you ;-)). I have since shared the story with lots of people taking part in You're Welcome workshops, and as a result there is another Living Advent Calendar in Horsley in Stroud. Stories are often the most power tools in inspiring us to do something different! It would be great to hear about how those in Kingsholm and Horsley have got on.
I should also say, that on a personal note that my family's connections in the community are growing, and as a result of this our neighbour suggested to her friend that I would make an ideal Santa at the local school fayre! So I thought I would leave you with a family picture!
Have a great Christmas