[Coming to the end of our first ‘season’ of Neighbour Nights, this blog post launches a series reflecting on Neighbour Nights as an experiment in “cultivating abundant community from the ground up.”]
Our parish of Summerfield is known for its great diversity. Here, variety and difference run rampant – for good, but sometimes unfortunately for division and lack of conversation.
After relocating to Summerfield parish in 2016 (along with another family, the Ahos), we wanted to have genuine conversations with local people about the neighbourhood. So, with the support of Rabiyah Latif at Near Neighbours and in partnership with the local parish church (Christ Church Summerfield) and Summerfield Residents Association, we hatched a plan called “Neighbour Nights.”
The concept of Neighbours Nights is simple and two-fold: connect people around 1) food and 2) how their passions connect with the local community. On the first Wednesday of every month, we invite neighbours to share what they bring – both 1) food that they are willing to bring and share, and also 2) anything they can offer that will contribute to the well-being of the local community.
In this way, instead of taking on issue-based approach to community organizing which starts with a litany of problems, we take an asset-based approach. By bringing together and actively involving the diversity of the neighbourhood, the primary function of Neighbour Nights is to ‘detect and connect’ what we have together.
Why? Because when you try to create common ground by focusing on common problems, it is easy to get stuck asking questions about what’s wrong with your neighbourhood ….
- Why are the queues at the local GP surgery taking so long?
- When is the council ever going to sort rubbish collection and the chronic litter problem?
While we recognize that these questions do require solutions, our experience also tells us that at the grassroots / neighbourhood level, it is more transformational to begin by asking other questions, such as:
- What are you passionate about?
- What would you like to see happen in this place?
- What are you willing to contribute to the well-being of this local community?
In other words, we want to start with what is strong instead of what’s wrong. Or even better: we want to come together to respond to what’s wrong by starting with what’s strong – which is asset-based community development in a nutshell.
We just had Neighbour Nights #6, and six months in, we are just beginning an ongoing journey of “cultivating abundant community from the ground up.” What is so encouraging is that already we are beginning to sense what John McKnight and Peter Block call the “invisible structure of an abundant community.” To understand what they mean, consider their description of how jazz musicians come together to make music:
Think of an after-hours jazz club, where musicians gather because they want to play their music together…they start playing something. It sounds wonderful, and even though they may not have ever seen each other before and have spoken only a few words, wonderful music emerges. To an outsider it is magical.
What is operating is a clear structure, but if you are not part of the jazz culture, the rule and customs that make the music possible are invisible. Similarly, properties of gifts, associations, and hospitality are the hidden structure of [abundant] community life…
…The jazz way is the community way of playing. The invisible structure of gifts, associations, and hospitality creates the possibility and are the rule of a competent community. They are always available and essential.”
Like the jazz jam session, Neighbour Nights is becoming a social space for neighbours to share their gifts, associate for a common purpose, and to extend hospitality.
In upcoming blogs in this series, we will develop how these three components – gifts, association, and hospitality – have begun to come together to enable a sense of abundance.
It is our hope that Neighbour Nights will continue to be a space that is about sharing food and sharing more than food. A space which:
- unites neighbours across ethnic, religious and generational lines;
- gives people a sense of rootedness in the area (in terms of friendship and also in terms of the physical space of the neighbourhood);
- strengthens existing friendships, enables new one, and even inspires new ways to come together.
For now, we simply want to pause and celebrate the good news that we are already beginning to experience together: that is, how things and people we most need to flourish as a local community are already and abundantly ‘at hand.’
 For more information about Near Neighbours, see http://www2.cuf.org.uk/how-we-help/near-neighbours.
 John McKnight and Peter Block, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010), 81.
 McKnight and Block, The Abundant Community, 82.