Teaching Kids the Value of Community Life

Interesting article published online by the Ecologist offers some tips on getting your kids involved with the community. The pointers have been taken from Homemade Kids: Thrifty, Creative and Eco-friendly ways to raise your child by Nicola Baird (Vermillion, £10.99):

1. Be inspired on holiday

In France it is normal to have great al fresco food markets and summer Sundays when the main town streets are closed to traffic. In the UK some towns and cities hold one car-free day in September or close roads for an annual event, like a street party or community fete. If holiday tales involve nightmare flights or tend to break your carbon budget you might find yourself thinking more about how to get around.

2. Be inspired on a work trip

In Holland (and Germany) it is normal to cycle – not just because it is flat – but because many urban areas are designed to give cars and pedestrians equal rights. If vehicles are moving slower then the streets get safer. Already many places in the UK are working to make residential streets 20mph zones. As you walk around a 20mph zone you’ll find that it is a much friendlier place – car drivers will catch your eye and may wave you across the road. And you may wave or smile to thank them.

3. Be empowered by new laws

Thanks to the Sustainable Communities Act, which was passed in October 2007, there are now more formal ways of greening the neighbourhood. This law can help save local post offices, local shops, independently-owned pubs, brings local community representatives on to council panels – with a stress on under-represented groups (young people, older people, ethnic minorities, etc.). There are some useful info sheets about how this act works and how to make full use of it at localworks.org and unlockdemocracy.org.uk.

4. Be ready to help your nearest school

There are close to 350,000 governor places in England, making governors the largest volunteer force in the country. You do not have to have a child at the school, you could volunteer to be a governor even if you’re in the planning stages of having a baby. Most governorships are for three years, but there is often an opportunity to be co-opted without the need for an election. Find out more at www.direct.gov.uk.en/parents or visit www.sgoss.org.uk.

5. Copy a really good idea

Already there are hundreds of towns copy-cating eco-initiatives such as the plastic-bag-free movement, begun in Modbury, Devon in 2007 and now embraced by more than 100 towns.

The slow food movement is a little older, begun in 1989 as an antidote to fast food and fast life. It began in Bra, Italy but in the UK has a stronghold in the south-west, and Bristol is the unofficial capital. Are there other local people wanting to unleash a transition town plan in your area? The first transition town in the UK was Totnes, but since then Lewes, Brighton & Hove, Forres, Lewes, Maidenhead, Omar, Tring and York are all working to respond to the twin challenges of dealing with peak oil and tackling climate change, find out more at www.transitiontowns.org.

Even the Government is trying to create at least four new eco towns – so-called because they will be drive-free zones with parking at the town edges, allotments and recycling facilities – although resistance from neighbours is high because they are likely to be built in rural areas.

Easy ideas to copy include growing food in the front garden, tool shares/swaps, pot luck feasts, clothes exchange, bookclubs, CRAGS – carbon rationing action groups – campaigning groups, veg co-ops and shared food deliveries.

Bigger ideas ripe for copying include:
– Community green spaces and gardens (e.g., Todmorden
in Yorkshire is turning itself into one big allotment)
– Off-road footpaths and cycle tracks
– Farmers’ markets, see
– Festivals (art, gastro, music, etc.)

6. Celebrate the good things at a neighbourhood party

A summer fête, winter festival or street party is often a local highlight. It may be that where you live there’s already an event pencilled in, but it could be so much better – or it could be in need of baby-friendly suggestions from a local like you.

Even if you still feel overwhelmed by parenthood you lose nothing by making sure you attend a community event. At the very least you may meet people with children the same age as yours who will wave at you whenever they next see you in the area – at the best you might even make new friends.

‘Helping organise our street party was also a very doable community activity with young children, but best to do it as part of a group – www.streetsalive.net tells you all you’ll ever need to know about street parties.’ – Gaby, 36.

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