My colleague Ian Dyson has been doing the most amazing job over the last 2 years working for Bethany Christian Trust funded by Inspiring Scotland. The Leith version of this project is called 'Inspiring Leith' and Iain has been doing a great job in bringing the communities of Lorne and Dalmeny together to have an impact in their community. He has been involved in helping local people to set up the Lorne Cafe, the PDP Men's Games Cafe, Friends of Dalmeny Park Street, a Lunchtime Cafe at St Andrew church for pupils from Leith Academy and various litter pick ups including Kirk Street.
Today's event was really well attended by a wide variety of people from Leith. The Peoples Map was a great way of bringing old and young together to capture stories and memories of Leith. As most people know Leith is a unique place and has a very different identity from Edinburgh. I think they also have a football team who won the Scottish Cup a long time ago.
|The peoples Map of Leith|
I've been at some of Inspiring Leith's events before (like a great night of Curry making at Punjab'n de Rasoi on Leith Walk in December). One of the things that strike me about community events is that they rarely go as planned. Just like the community, these events can be very diverse, hard to predict and at times, a little bit messy. This is often why so many of us don't really get involved in our communities other than in a very half hearted way. It can be difficult, messy, exhausting and time consuming. We also don't have much control when we get involved with our communities and most of us like to be in control! I was talking to a leader of a Christian charity recently who told me that in a recent survey they did in a Scottish city most people surveyed responded that their community was no bigger than their immediate family. What a sad indictment on 21st Century Scotland! How can we change this?
1. We need to get involved.
Ian Dyson told me the story of a woman he met who was thinking of emigrating. She was fed up with the litter, the drugs, the youths hanging about and the general depression around her community. The next time he met her she had decided to stay and change her community. Along with Inspiring Leith she organised a litter pick up in her street and established a Tenants Association to work together towards creating a better environment. Imagine what would happen if every community had even one community activist like this?
Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies is that so often the church in Scotland is not leading community change. Despite a church on almost every street corner the church is often the absent partner in community transformation. But that hasn't always been the case. When Thomas Guthrie walked the streets of the Cowgate and the Lawnmarket in the 1830's he was appalled by the 1-2000 'ragged children' he saw all around him. He wrote, campaigned, organised, spoke and served until these children were fed, loved and educated. He got involved.
|Thomas Guthrie's statue in Princes Street Gardens - 'a friend of the poor and the oppressed'|
We might despair about our communities but Guthrie and others have shown that Christians can (and should) be at the forefront of community change. As Tim Keller says 'the only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric [of community] is by weaving yourself into it. Human beings are like those threads thrown together onto a table. If we keep our money, time, and power to ourselves, instead of sending them out into our neighbours' lives, then we may be literally on top of one other, but we are not interwoven socially, relationally, financially, and emotionally. Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, power, and resources into the lives and needs of others' (Generous Justice, p 177).
|Ian Dyson in front of the Peoples Map of Leith|
2. We need to listen to the community
If our communities are going to change, local people need to be involved with the solutions that will bring about transformation. For too long communities have had services that have parachuted in to 'rescue' individuals and families. Ultimately this solves very little. On the other hand, community inspired projects create capacity and confidence for local people to take on other challenges. As the Peoples Map of Leith showed very clearly, major projects like the Kirkgate Shopping Centre at the bottom of Leith Walk destroyed so much that was good in Leith and many feel the heart was ripped out of the community. Local people know best and should be trusted about the future of their communities.
3. We need to invest in community
At one time churches were at the heart of most communities in Scotland but sadly this is no longer the case. People are now very reliant on community facilities. The problem is that when councils close down these facilities the glue that often holds communities together is weakened. The young people end up hanging on street corners, the older people become more isolated, the mothers who used to attend the mother and toddlers group get more stressed, and the ultimate effect is greater expense on other services. This is why we can't afford not to invest in our communities. For comparatively little expense, community facilities and investment provides much more in return with greater cohesion and a better living environment for all of us.
The Peoples Map of Leith show us how intertwined all our lives are. We need each other. We all need community. Our cities prove Guthrie's point that 'the solitude of a crowd is the most painful of all.' So many people are living in fractured and broken communities.
Wouldn't it be great if the Christian church was leading community change once again? Rather than seeing churches open for 3-4 hours per week wouldn't it be great to see them open every night and once again at the heart of their communities? To do this we need to get involved, we need to listen to local people and we need to invest in the facilities and resources that can help community transformation. This should be natural territory for Christians. Why? As Keller says 'God created all things to be in a beautiful, harmonious, interdependent, knitted, webbed relationship to one another. Just as rightly related physical elements form a cosmos or a tapestry, so rightly related human beings form a community. This interwovenenss is what the Bible calls shalom, or harmonious peace' (Generous Justice, p 173). As Christians we should know what community looks like and feels like. It is that shalom that Keller mentions - something we want for every community in Scotland. We need to stop keeping it to ourselves and start living it!