Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Celebration of Community

As I think I said in a previous post I am not a flag-waving type nor a particularly fervent monarchist.

Nevertheless I did venture out to the Jubilee celebration party in Isleworth's Chestnut Grove, partly I guess to support my father who had been involved in helping to organise it and partly because it was the road I grew up in.

I'm glad I went along. For a little street of some 40 or so dwellings the turnout was incredible, fortified as it was by the participation of some neighbours from Cleveland Road and Twickenham Road and some moved-out former dwellers.

Back in the 1960s and early 1970s Chestnut Grove had been a typical suburban, owner-occupied, semi-detatched residential neighbourhood. Typical at that time, of course, meant Sunday roast-eating, Crossroads-watching, "respectable" - and white. It won't have been the only street in England, nor even in Isleworth, in which the news that an Asian family would be moving in was met with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. Not hatred nor even hostility per se, but an intangible feeling that this development would be in some indefinable way "bad" for the neighbourhood and that things would somehow never quite be the same again.

Fast forward to 2012 and the moral triumph of the integrated society was as evident in Chestnut Grove as it could ever possibly be. The well-intentioned but ignorant fears of yesteryear had well and truly given way to a new, inclusive sense of community, the bonds that join it every bit as united and as powerful as they had been back in the sixties and seventies but with the old concerns - what I have called "the fear of difference" - replaced by a new and very real sense of togetherness.

This was not "tolerance", a word that suggests putting up reluctantly with others for the sake of a quiet life, but a real unity that pervaded the whole street. I chuckled inwardly as I watched some quite elderly people, those very residents who had been so concerned by the prospect of demographic change all those years ago, dancing to the bhangra bearing expressions of real celebration and joy.

The other emotion induced within me by the occasion, and not a little by the sangria, was one of real anger at the knowledge that communities such as this are still not trusted to determine their own destinies. Still considered in constant need of steering and guidance by self-appointed political elites who for some undefined reason believe that only they know what is best for them.

Those local politicos would have been welcome at the Chestnut Grove street party, but as individuals wanting to join us not as politicians wanting to direct us.

I recall a street party in Orchard Road, Brentford back in 2006, shortly after the local elections of that year which had seen six ICG councillors elected. If I recall correctly we all attended, but as members of the public going along to support an initiative by fellow residents. We didn't have our impending presence announced with a fanfare of trumpets. It was their activity - the residents'. Not ours.

Whatever the occasion may have been about officially I like to think the Chestnut Grove street party was above all a celebration of community. An audacious flaunting of our unbroken and unbreakable spirit. Communities such as Chestnut Grove need no controlling or directing. We are free spirits, and that is the way it will always remain.

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