We spent this evening at Broxbourne Station stopping commuters to ask them about communities and commuting. Its an odd thing to stand outside the station for 2 hours during the evening rush; there are long periods of almost complete stillness intterupted by very sudden gushes of people pouring out of the station so fast that you only need blink and they’d be gone. So we had to work fast to stop a few and persuade them to speak to us after their long days work. Many people told us they had a strong sense of community and links to their community despite working away from the area; people valued the fresh air and someone explained that Broxbourne feels like the beginning of the countryside, like the beginning of what is outside London.

Young Mums

I was lucky to meet a group of very inspiring young mums at the Bowes Lyon Centre who were working hard to be make good lives for their youngsters. They had keen insight and offered glimpses of Stevenage that I’d not seen before.  I think that some of them found peoples attitudes towards them difficult, and it struck me that 50 years ago it wouldn’t have been considered that odd to be a mum at 19 – perhaps unmarried but most of these ladies have partners. How many people in their 30s are single mums and they are not singled out for criticism.

I’m nineteen, its not as if I’m walking home in my school uniform pushing my son.  They dont even know his dad works and looks after him, yet they obviously assume “teenage mum, got to come from rough background,” they just assume (and don’t) want to take the time to get to know us.

Walking to Pirton


I walked to Pirton from Hitchin Station; heading out of town and the along the Hambridge Way foot path – or at least I think that’s the way I think I went, at any rate I looked at a map and thought I could walk so followed what I thought was a good route. I did have my kick scooter with me to help me get across Hitchin and I expect some people thought I was an odd site on a child’s scooter heading up a farm track. It was a gorgeous morning and I realised that being able to walk from one town to another on country paths without every seeing a road must be rare. It really brought home the diversity of Hertfordshire. So I arrived in Pirton feeling very relaxed to meet 4 ladies,  one of whom, born in Pirton, remembered walking and cycling everywhere for miles around.  We spoke about communities old an new,  farming life in the past, how small developments of housing in a village can in fact double the size of a community and how change can be isloating for some and an exciting part of life for others.

School and community

Our session on the Priory School, Hitchin was with the School Voice a group of representatives from all school years. They had many perspectives on community, what is means and how to make better places and neighbourhoods to live in.

Is School a community? I think people don’t really consider school as a community despite it being a community, because its drummed into your head that community is the word around you – its like where you live, its not focused in on your actually a community at school and you’re actually a community where you hang out , people dont see it as that.

What is a community do you have to have similar interests? No because you can have completley different people all linked in with one thing… it depends on whether your community is focused on a subject and that’s the only thing you share or if its a friend community where you have some things in common but you are also your own person at the same time.

Markets, Jobs, new Housing

Back in Stevenage this week and Orlagh and Nicola set up outside the Job Centre with a large map of Stevenage to stop passers by and chat about their communities. It was a great morning with around 30 interviews from many many walks of life. At the same time I went to the InTown Training Centre and chatted to the workers and one of the new clients about the needs for the service in the current recession and how it is a key link between various communities in Stevenage.

Over to Great Ashby where I met with three residents to discuss the new community that has developed in this large newly built area.  We talked about how communities grow and develop,  how simple things like availability of parking facilities can cause tension between neighbours, the availability and routes of public transport can isolate people, the proximity to the countryside and wildlife and what it is like to live somewhere that seems to constantly be expanding with more houses being built.

The next day we set up for a morning in Watford Market stopping around 30 market goers to discuss the people and places they live in as well as the market and its role in the community. Voices and opinions were wide and diverse though peoples love of the indoor market and its huge importance to old people shone through.

Finally we arrived at North Herts college for a wonderful session with a supported learners Launch To Work Scheme. This group of young people with learning difficulties,  and their workers were  full of fun and laughter and we mapped the many groups they belong to discussing what is important about the groups, exploring what constitutes communities.

Language and Migration

In Stevenage the next morning we met with Michal Siewniak, Strategic Development Officer, Hertfordshire, MENTER the Regional network for Black / Minority Ethnic (BME) voluntary organisations and communities. He is Polish and talked to us about both his experience of living in Hertfordshire and more broadly about the experience of Polish immigrants. We also talked about the issues that are arising in both their communities and the communities and a whole with the current influx of migrants.

He teaches English so we had an interesting discussion about how language teaching can help people connect or it can separate groups, depending on how the language is taught and the mix of students.

Skates, bikes and boards

Off to Watford’s Derby Road Skate Park to chat informally with some of the skaters. Most of them were in the 17 – 20 age group, It was very relaxed and friendly. I spoke to several who said it was so important to them to have a place  that was open all the time, was free and unregulated where they could come to skate, learn new skills, exercise, chat to mates when not at college or work. Many said it was a saving grace in their lives to have the park and that the skate community was a strong one. It was so friendly in the park but it was interesting to note the sometimes suspicious looks on the faces of passers by.  The park is in what i thought might otherwise be an unused bit of brownfield land jutting out into a junction of major roads, these skaters really brought life to the area.