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Mark McKergow, founder, Village In The City (http://villageinthecity.net )

You arrive in a new city to find that although everything is bustling, there seems to be no way to connect to people in your neighbourhood. Or perhaps you have lived in a city for ages, only to find that the pandemic lockdowns cut you off from your normal social channels. That was me, a few months ago. 

However, I noticed that the lockdown produced a change in our street. People started talking to each other. An email and Whatsapp group were set up. News was shared, support offered, I played my saxophone for the neighbours on the doorstep, and we started to connect. In one way, I felt life improving as a result of this terrible event. I wanted more of it, for me and for others.

So, I set up Village In The City in June 2020, with the idea of learning about how to build my own micro-local community in Edinburgh’s West End, and to connect and share with others who feel they want to share a similar journey. My background is in leadership and organisation development, in particular the approach of ‘leading as a host’.  I figured that I have some professional expertise to bring to the community development field. So, I wrote a Manifesto with six key elements which can act as the basis for community and set about it, inviting others to join in. Micro-local communities improve well-being, economy, and connection.

What IS a ‘village in the city’?

It’s a small patch, a neighbourhood rather than a council area or local government unit. It may only be a few streets. You can probably walk across it in 10 minutes maximum. To create one, we suggest to people to start small at first – connect, invite people to join you, take some small steps, maybe set up a Facebook group or similar, have a kick-off meeting to see what people would value, and go from there.

Village-level community can:

  • Improve all our lives in the short-term and long-term. Both building an active community and being part of one are positive experiences.
  • Build inclusive cross-generational and cross-demographic community, to expand our awareness of how the world is experienced by those around us.
  • Build resilience and mutual support with people right there on their doorstep, continuing and expanding the positive developments seen during the COVID pandemic.
  • Connect businesses, support groups, families, churches, secular groups, and everyone else with an identity and local participation.
  • Act as a necessary counterbalance to online communication; access to global communication leaves space for micro-local in-person interaction.
  • Help citizens become more empowered and purposefully connected than they have been in recent years.

We now have a growing band of village-builders around the world, from North and South America to continental Europe and the United Kingdom. We hold monthly calls with experts in community development, as well as learning & sharing calls and forums – all free to join. We are also developing resources including the ‘Village Builders Handbook’ (now in its third iteration and growing all the time). 

We welcome folk from anywhere in the world who want to start work to build community in their local patch. It doesn’t even have to be in a city! Some of our members have found themselves working from home, spending more time in their local patch, and finding they want to use their skills and experience to improve it. You are welcome to join our international group where we learn, share, support each other, improve our own lives and the lives of our neighbours too. 

You can find out more about Village In The City by joining our free online FireStarter Festival event on Thursday 4th February at 4pm UK time, visiting the website, or joining one of our free calls. You are also welcome to contact me at mark@villageinthecity.net

Wellbeing Economy Correspondents is a series highlighting the firsthand experiences of individuals who have witnessed Wellbeing Economy principles, practices, and policies being implemented in all different contexts around the world. Our correspondents support WEAll’s mission to establish that a Wellbeing Economy is not only a desirable goal, but also an entirely viable one.

How does adult development play into the internal narratives we hold? How can we shift those narratives?

Internal narratives are the stories we tell ourselves about the world. It’s our self-talk, the way we explain or attempt to think something through. By better understanding these narratives, we can see where to shift toward to change the structure of our thinking. 

 In this WEAll Citizens event, Jackie Thoms, co-founder of Fraendi.org, introduced ‘Adult Development’ as a lens through which people can shift their internal narratives. As a body of work, Adult Development has been researched over 40 years internationally, and is now entering more fully into discourse around organisational and leadership practices. This approach is not about defining what the narrative is or needs to be, but supports adults to perceive more and perceive differently, sensing into the deeper patterns of what may be true and potentially enabling shifts in epistemology.

Epistemology is the understanding of how we come to know that something is the reality. It is the understanding of or justification of knowledge claims or a systematic way of interrogating our own thinking, mental models or how we make sense of things.

Often crises support people to make developmental shifts, and we are living through such a crisis now, with the coronavirus pandemic. At this time, we need many more narratives to paint the richness of who we are as a society and to nudge ourselves in subtle and more obvious ways to develop. 

With a developmental view of who we are as humans we have the capacity to shift our narratives through different levels. Multiple descriptions and multiple stories illuminate what the problems are and the possibilities and paths forward. It’s not that we need to define or be given the new narratives, we need to be given the structures to support us to create many, many more stories. However, the scaffolding required to support people to develop more mature and complex ways of thinking is not integrated into our way of life. 

Most institutions in western cultures: educational, political, and organisational tend to foster reductionist thinking. Reductionist thinking doesn’t include the idea that things are moving and changing, and avoids conflict and dissonance: often the main motor for change. This leads to more static and stable thinking, which contributes to our difficulty in moving  beyond the status quo,even as we face the destruction of our ecologies and multiple significant crises. So although people are born with the capacity for complex thinking, it does not develop. Vanessa Andreotti in the Climate Change Sessions, (A school called Home, Nov 2020) goes further to say that we live in a self-infantalising society in western cultures and that “Children are born. Grown-ups are made.”

Another factor that is limiting, is the narrative of (neo-)liberalism from the 1800s which is dominant in most western cultures today. The focus on humanity being the destructive species we are currently, ignores and limits our capacities to be different. It continues the ideal of competition as a priority and downplays or dismisses interdependence and connectedness. 

The narrative that we can individually determine our health and wellbeing is being challenged through this lived experience that our health is interdependent on our neighbour, our community, the policies and response of governments across the world and much more.

Mark Langdon, a WEAll member in the session shared that in the book “Wilful Blindness”, Margaret Heffernan comments that competition makes us more likely to conform than to think autonomously.

Adult Development approaches have relevance for education, politics, organisations and are embedded in a broader movement to break out of our limiting narratives and sense making to re-story life on this planet. This is especially important today.

Here are some resources on Paths to perceive more and differently, informed by an Adult Development lens:

On June 30 2020, WEall hosted its first meme generating workshop. In small groups, the participants used an online meme generating platform, iloveimg to create humorous images about our current economic system.

These memes are intended to capture a key piece of narrative development that is vital to disseminating messages around a new economy. WEAll’s theory of change is shown in the image below. It couples narrative and knowledge to create a powerbase that then grows the new economic system.

 

 

 

Memes have the ability to tell stories in small digestible bites that can be easily understood by a diverse audience. Online, they are used widely to bring humor to current events.

In the same way that meme’s tell stories or poke fun at current events, these memes can be used to highlight the inadequacies of our current economic systems.

WEAll prioritises this kind of storytelling, as it helps to simplify the complex nature of our work.

We are exploring hosting another y ‘meme generating’ workshop to generate a ‘Wellbeing Economy meme bank’ to share with our member network. Stay tuned!

Below are a few examples of our favorite memes that came out of the workshop today: