HIGHWAY NEIGHBOURS is an exciting new local church-led initiative which seeks to use the Olympics as an opportunity to engage communities in meaningful relationship. Working in partnership with other faith communities in Shadwell and Wapping, Highway Neighbours seeks to help vulnerable local people during the Olympics. Having identified the following potential challenges; road closures, termination of bus routes, increased traffic, closure of crossings, challenges reaching local mosques for prayer during Ramadan, and a decrease in deliveries, the churches in this area are planning to draw the community together by replacing local practical services which will be withdrawn between July and September.
Step One. Over the next three months, teams of volunteers will take to the streets of Wapping and Shadwell to interview a target number of 2012 local people. The aim? To find out three pieces of information. 1. What practical challenges will arise that we could help you overcome? 2. What activities would you like to take place in your local community during the Olympics? 3. How would you like to be involved in HIGHWAY NEIGHBOURS? Through this process of information gathering, the potential for building authentic relationships and capturing the interests, motivations and desires of local people may be realised. Whether it is constructing mini live sites to watch the games, starting football matches between different faith institutions, delivering meals to those who require it, or photography workshops to gather yet untold local stories, it is hoped that the Highway will be buzzing with activity throughout the summer. Using ideas generated by the community, the project will go beyond the gloss of the ‘national’ Olympics, expanding the excitement created by the games in order to achieve much wider outcomes than intended.
Reflecting on the national rhetoric that the Olympics will be a regeneration scheme, one must question whether this is really achievable without engaging local society. Yet HIGHWAY NEIGHBOURS seeks to regenerate by reflecting what appears to be the original values of the games; those of peace, solidarity and community cohesion. It is striking therefore that this new project is in one of the poorest boroughs of London (Tower Hamlets), and it is civil society who are themselves responsible for broadening the potential of the Olympics, identifying the potential for enhancing the dynamism, capacity, inclusion, and cohesion of Shadwell and Wapping, through hard work, and relationship building. Rather than allowing national activity to dictate vulnerable local society, this is a project which encourages the ‘local’ to engage with the reality of life at the national, and international spheres of society this summer. Authentic regeneration demands that the Olympics achieves its potential by thinking creatively about the complex ways in which international, national, and local forces have the potential to work together for positive development. Let’s hope this is an encouragement to other local communities to grasp the opportunity created by the games in 2012.
To find out more contact Caitlin Burbridge – firstname.lastname@example.org