Who’s John James I hear you ask…..or maybe you know already. Personally, I’d never heard of the guy but I now have a CD of his on my ipod thanks to a fortuitous conversation I had with Andy Smith at the Sounds guitar shop in Rugby. I love playing my guitar but the strings had become tired so I took them off thinking I had a replacement set only to find that my replacement set was missing a string. A couple of weeks passed and I was dearly missing playing my guitar so I made it a priority to go get some new strings. And so I found myself in Sounds buying a set of strings for my guitar. Big deal you might ask, and that would be the end of this story if it wasn’t for the photographs of John Lennon and George Harrison on the back wall of the shop. They were taken by the legendary Beatles photographer Bill Zygmant who now lives in Rugby; one of his photos was projected onto the Albert Dock in Liverpool to celebrate what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday last year. Being a big Beatles fan myself we soon started swapping stories and talking about our shared passion for their music. The conversation then moved on to classical guitar playing and then onto John James.
Andy was pleased he had managed to track down John, now living back in his home country of Wales, and had persuaded him to play at this year’s Rugby Music Festival. He assured me that a quick Goole search and I would soon discover who John James is, and he was right. Back at home I was surprised to come across a detailed Wiki page of his personal history and YouTube videos of his amazing guitar playing. All this research was then promptly followed by a trip to Amazon to find a CD and 2 days later I have it on my ipod. However, it was whilst talking to Andy that he mentioned that he was coordinating the Music Festival committee, the plan is to hold the festival in the summer and to involve as many music groups from across the town as possible, including the local children’s choir. The library in Rugby is modern building that also houses a small museum, the architecture is sensitive and being central it’s a natural place for people to attend a community focused event – the least said about the ASDA opposite the better. The Festival will be an afternoon/evening event to allow people to join after work, stay out in the summer evening and enjoy a drink or just get to know each other better. Andy was telling me that the plan was to house the children’s choir in the library building but to do this they need the council to extend the opening hours of the library from 5pm (normal close) to 8pm. However there is a glitch. The council need to pay staff for the extra time that they need to work, they also need to charge for the extra heating and lighting costs, and of course insurance. The estimated bill given to the Festival committee for this one day community event is £800! And there we see a challenge presented to all of us, how are we to organise ourselves, our communities and create a bigger, better society when plain old insurance and basic heating and lighting costs get in the way?
I was fascinated to read this blog post on Big Society’s biggest problem by Samuel Middleton about how Haringey council want to grant planning permission for the local outdoor, Seven Sisters market to be re-generated into a shopping and housing complex; a modern solution but also something that will rip the heart out of the community. It seems to me that Haringey council are out of touch with the voice of the wider community. Or put another way, the community hasn’t got a sufficiently strong, coherent voice that the council can tap into, listen to, engage with and actively support. So how can we better organise ourselves to make sure our voice, our communities have a clear coherent message that will be listened to? There is lots you can learn on how best to help communities to organise, Mark Parker explains well here what the difference between community organising and community development is, certainly I’m not professing to be an expert on this subject matter at all, but one thing that does strike me is that any organised community will be well connected, it will know about each other, be emotionally connected and part of each other’s lives. How can we achieve this, where to start, through grand community events?….or maybe it’s much simpler than that, perhaps we just need to lean over the garden fence and get to know our neighbours, spend 5 minutes chatting to the shop owner, pursue our interests and hobbies in social groups, find people we can connect with and I’m sure out of all of these pursuits we can find the common issues that we need to be coherent on. We can self-organise so that when it comes to putting on the grand events or standing up to the council, we can have a clearer sense of what we want our community to be and how those in power can empower us.