Unity in CommUnity: Chris Kelly
We’ve all seen and experienced the resurgence in neighbourliness where we live or where we work. There’s been many a story told.
The stories we share belong to a community that has comfortably taken the lead in responding to the pandemic.
They are stories of community love, connection, sharing, care and laughter.
They may also help institutions who are pondering how to return to community space in a way that does not displace what communities have seeded, tended and grown.
These stories belong to a village called Netherton. It’s a place that we know to be friendly and generous. A village where people give, share and receive in equal measures. A village that believes laughter is the best medicine for the soul and one that wont be defined by what’s wrong, but by what’s strong.
The first story belongs to Chris Kelly.
Chris lives in Netherton. You could say he’s a Netherton fixture and fitting. His family are well known and connected and have lived in the village since the estate was built. He now lives with his family in the house that once belonged to his Grandad.
Chris started to community organise, in his home space, after shootings involving young people on the Marian Square in February 2019. He’d had enough of young people hurting each other at the request of dealers and decided that it was time to bring the community together. He invited the community to ‘step up’ and take shared responsibility for everyone who lived in the village. The people who worked at the local community centre, the L30 Centre, heard about this and offered to host.
Chris shared his own story, his personal experience of overcoming adversity, and spoke about his passions for the area – the village that he remembered and would like to see again. He invited people to share their stories and passions too. Before you knew it George was fixing bikes so that people could get together on a community cycle ride. Groups of neighbours came together to make the area look good with Chris encouraging and inviting more neighbours to join in. At each community gathering Chris invited local businesses to come and sell their wares to each other. He sparked the idea for community get togethers in the summer time. Bouncy castles are a given at a Netherton party and neighbours worked together so they could avoid the restrictions that get in the way when services take the lead. With others, Chris created Netherton CommUnity and a Facebook group with 2.5k members.
When lockdown appeared on the horizon, Chris naturally approached the people who had been working alongside him from the L30 Community Centre, to host the space, that would enable village connectors to come together and think about how they could respond.
One of the ideas hatched at the gathering was for resident Easter Bunnies to visit the streets over the Easter weekend, safely saying hello to children whilst checking in with community members. Boots had donated lots of Easter eggs, but not enough to go around. As this idea developed with streets nominating themselves for a visit, neighbours began to leave money, or chocolate at the Centre so that all children could receive an egg. The staff at the local Heron clubbed together and bought all the left over Easter eggs to donate, and the shop now offers a 10% community discount. They’ve offered to host a community picnic when its safe to do so.
Chris could see that there was something really important about this and decided to keep it going. The next week he invited Martin to join him. They asked neighbours to donate sweets and leave them at the Centre. They approached Aldi to help and the Big Local helped with a little money too. Dressed as Buzz Lightyear and Woody they took to their streets.
“People were hanging from their windows. There was a real buzz in the area! Even when we ran out of sweets they asked us to still come. It got people outside and on their fronts talking to neighbours. It turned into a full day.”
“And then two became three. Neighbours wanted to get involved. Most of the outfits since then have come from the community, people have dug them up out of their sheds. We started to take a bucket and people started giving money to pay for the sweets. Each week more people want to get involved. There’s so many photos and videos shared in the Facebook group. Someone asked if they could be a dinosaur. This last week all the face paints that we needed for Shrek and Fiona came from the community. We also raised £360 for our local charity “Flame Spirit”.
“So we were doing this at the weekends and Suey was doing the street fitness in the week and people were getting to know each other again. We know that people round here like a good game of bingo and so we suggested taking it to the streets. We managed to get a microphone and the L30 Centre made street bingo packs for us. Downside has 60 people attending now. Lovely, safe fun. I started it off and now they run it themselves. It’s spread all over the place.”
“VE Day was brilliant. Richie found some flags left over from the Silver Jubilee in his shed. It took us all back to the days when he would take about 15 of us in a transit van to the beach for the day.”
“People just want to connect more. We’ve had a shift in our thinking. We’ve learned that we don’t need to go out to have fun. Who needs soaps when the action is on your doorstep? It’s like you cant wait to get outside to see what your neighbours are up to. Making swings and stuff like that on trees. It’s as if we’ve refound our manners and courtesy. Everyone wants to say hello and is interested. We are all keeping our eyes on the people who need help”
“Now that we know each other better, we are helping each other with all kinds of stuff. Two young lads were robbed on the canal a couple of weeks ago. We raised £500 to give to them. We know that doesn’t change what happened, but it lets them know that we care about them. When local people heard of the charges that Go Fund Me wanted to make, we decided to fight back, keeping all our money local and went old school back to the good old raffle ticket. Prizes have been donated from everywhere; designer sunglasses from the local optician, cake raffles from home bakers, sweet boxes and afternoon tea for 2 delivered to the door. A dinner for two from a restaurant in Maghull (they joined the Netherton group because they heard about the great things we are doing and would like to see their community doing the same). Kenny the local window cleaner donated three free window cleaning weeks for a house in the street bingo.”
“A woman had a fall by the Aldi and straight away someone posted on our group for a lift as the ambulance wouldn’t come. A neighbour picked her up and now checks in on her at the hospital. There was a shooting in Litherland, next door to us, and we could step out of our area and say you are not on your own with this.”
“It’s as if services really expected us to struggle, and don’t get me wrong lots of people have. We’ve come together though. I was talking with someone who is involved with the recovery team. He’s enjoying not having to see someone, and being able to pick up from the chemist like the old days. He was saying when you work with services its more often than not their plan, rather than your plan. I work with people in recovery and so I’ve been posting useful videos that I made at the Life Rooms in the Facebook group. We’ve been able to offer free places on some of the online groups and people from Netherton have been attending.”
“Before this happened we had started to talk with the L30 Centre about how we get them to open their door more. How we get around some of the health and safety stuff. They were wanting the community to take back ownership of the Centre, put it back where it belongs. We need to do more of that talking, and not just with them, with all the services in the area. One of the first things we did as a community was to make activity packs for children, to keep them busy in lockdown. The Centre copied them for us. A few weeks later I had a knock on our door and the old children’s centre staff dropped off a children’s pack. Had they asked, we’d have told them it was crayons and paint we needed as we’ve already sorted packs. It was a good thing to do but not what we needed. We need to make sure that the community can keep building, we don’t want services to return and start doing things for us. That will take away our power.
And that’s the conversation that Chris has now started in the community. This is a community that has shown how it demonstrates love and care for each other in ways that only neighbours can. It feels like this is the time to truly shift power? This community is ready and able and is inviting institutions that can walk alongside at the speed of trust to share their space.
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