How do we pay more attention to the networks of care neighbourhoods sustain and help them to be resilient? How are people meaningfully involved in building communities at different stages of their lives?

A neighbourhood is a scale of place that is intelligible through movement, destinations and relationships – from different perspectives, it is not a fixed space. And it flexes over the course of someone’s life. When my son was at primary school and I took him to school most days this meant I lived in a place where I always recognised someone on the street. When we moved later on it was mainly through walking my dog and knowing a handful of other parents of teens that I got to know people. The physical limits of my neighbourhood were about the same but what and who was in them had changed, as had my role as a carer.

The neighbourhood as a system is well captured in the descriptions of 15 minute neighbourhood in Paris – where Carlos Moreno says that the primary unit of consideration should be people’s time and the quality of every day experience. He says the post war conception of a neighbourhood as a residential enclave needs reimagining – not only so that it’s not zoned as a single land use but so that it is not zoned by class and gender. Questions like how I get a child to nursery, another to school and/or access other kinds of care and get to work could be reflected as more fundamental to the process of design.

For neighbourhoods to become drivers of sustainable systems and better support care how would they need to evolve? Technology is already enabling us to adapt to travelling less, working from home has become easier for some making juggling family and work responsibilities easier. As Moreno hights time is precious and getting some of it back and having less of an impact on the environment is a win-win. But when we are in our neighbourhoods for longer, are there more ways to be part of a circular and regenerative system? Can stronger community networks shape how we use other kinds of resources?

Three community projects in West Somerset are inspiring in the way they work with both resources and relationships to undo entrenched inequalities. They are social projects but they also define physical spaces and shape places – concentrating activity in a single room or a garden or shaping resilient social networks across neighbourhoods.

The Wivey Kitchen has just moved to a new kitchen in the courtyard of The Bear pub in Wivelscombe a small town on the edge of Exmoor. The space has been given by the pub who plan to work in partnership with the Kitchen to host training. Twice a week The Kitchen brings together volunteers to cook healthy, nutritious meals that are delivered to those who need them and stocked in freezers in local churches on a pay as you can basis. To make the meals they use donated food from Fare Share that would otherwise have gone to landfill. As well as the kitchen they have a partner project Wivey Grows that brings together volunteers to grow produce for the kitchen. The Wivey Grows garden is in the grounds of a care home where gardening activities simultaneously build community, grow food, enhance habitats and maintain the grounds.

As a charity Wivey Cares has developed a way to finance care differently, providing care of a higher quality and at less cost than the norm to clients and the Local Authority. The charity supports a network of 50 self-employed carers – providing training and coordinating referrals. Each carer is better paid and has more control over managing their time than the norm. They can spend more time chatting with their clients and as they live locally, they know more about what’s going on in the place and need to travel less. Over time the organisation strengthens place based local networks and brings more resources into the local economy in terms of viable work and reliable support for families (who in turn may sometimes be more able to keep working). People receiving support from Wivey cares are shown to live longer in their own homes.

Like the Bristol City Council’s Blaise Community Plant Scheme which distributed 10,000 plants to 60 community organisations over three years – the Wivi Kitchen and Garden grew out of the immediate challenges of the pandemic when there was a need to rapidly find different ways to do things. In small rural communities resources and destinations are difficult to sustain the project’s ability to bring people together and make more from less are compelling.

Moreno, C. (2024) The 15 – Minute City – A solution to saving our time and our planet. US: John Wiley and Sons.

Image – Wivi Grows Lettuce – Juliet Bidgood

       

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      ARCHITECTURE / URBAN DESIGN