A CAMPAIGN that seeks to build on the community spirit developed during the lockdowns has been launched in the West Midlands, in Dudley.
Scores of banners are being put up at churches and other locations around the town, calling on people to “fill their streets with friendliness” as they exit lockdown and come together “As One”.
The campaign is led by Martin Graham, who, three years ago, launched the successful initiative “Permission to Smile” in Birmingham to tackle the long-term effects of the 2008 economic slump. “As One is the ‘son’ of Permission to Smile,” Mr Graham said. “That was based on street associations: an informal but very positive association for one street. It was friendship, fun, belonging, offering a helping hand. A core group of residents might put on anything from a quiz to an outing for children. It was just about bringing people together. Once they are together, so much else happens.”
Plans for Permission to Smile street parties were forming when the pandemic broke out. “At first, we thought we couldn’t do anything, but then we had the clapping for the NHS, the developing of community spirit with WhatsApp support groups, and so on. It became clear that we had a tried-and-tested methodology which would be perfect for the reopening of society as the pandemic left. We rebranded as As One, and the first to respond was Dudley.”
Supported by Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and the Love Dudley network of churches, the banners list a website that shows how people can become “street champions” to form street associations that will eventually organise “Back Together” celebratory tea parties. When that happens depends on the success of the efforts against the virus.
“We would love it to happen this summer,” Mr Graham said, “but, if it happens next year, at least we will have had more time to form more associations. The banners will help keep some of last year’s lockdown spirit in play. It is very clear that it will evaporate unless we are intentional about giving it longevity.”
They also want to acknowledge the different traumas that people have experienced during the pandemic: each church is to hold a community memorial service shortly before the tea party.
The Bishop of Dudley, in Worcester diocese, the Rt Revd Martin Gorick, said: “The people of Dudley have come together in a remarkable way throughout the pandemic. The As One campaign builds on that spirit of neighbourliness, as it encourages us all to ‘fill our streets with friendliness’ in the months and years ahead. Emerging from the pandemic will not be easy: there will be ongoing challenges and struggles, and we need to keep looking out for each other as we seek to build a better future.”
Love Dudley’s chairman, Adrian Lowe, said: “Friendship, fun, belonging, a helping hand on each street — what’s not to like? We can do this and together bring lasting good out of the most difficult circumstances.”