I recently attended a one day workshop on Collective Impact in Sydney, facilitated by Paul Born of the Tamarack Institute where he talked about the concept of Third Spaces.
The term is not new to me and is what one of my ABCD colleagues, Jim Diers, calls Bumping Places but, it got me thinking about my own neighbourhood and how I connect with locals in my own town.
I live in a semi-rural area of New South Wales, in a small village that boasts a school, a shop, a telephone box and a pub. As a national ABCD trainer, I often tell people during my travels that I feel like the plumber who has no running water in their own home!
Paul talked about how he connects to his community; he door knocks, organises get togethers, knows people’s names and also mentioned that his family have started going back to church as a way to connect better.
In contrast, I teach community engagement and development around the country but when I come home, I’m just home; I’m not part of the local environmental group, although I know they exist. I don’t attend local sports games, although I know many of the people who do. I’m not part of the local Rural Fire Service, but my neighbours are.
So, it got me thinking? How do I connect? Where do I connect? Where’s my church?
The answer was the pub! I live 3 doors down from the local pub and my verandah is in line with the pub’s verandah. We have a great view of the mountain range and I often sit out the front after an arduous travel stint and reflect on how lucky I am to be only an hour away from the closest main city but have access to such natural beauty.
When I’m sitting on the verandah, people walking to the pub often stop to have a chat. I catch up on local news, hear what’s happening in town, discover new people who have moved in, what babies have been born, what events are coming up. This is where I engage!
On occasion, I head up to the pub. It’s not often but when I do, I know people and they know me! I can comfortably go there alone and know I will find someone to have a chat with. In reflection, over the years, I have been involved in lots of community events as a community member, not as a professional. In fact, most of the locals wouldn’t even know what I do for a job!
The pub has hosted community markets, trivia nights, raffles, live entertainment and the big one of the year; the Christmas Eve Hay Ride.
At approximately 5pm each Christmas Eve, any local community member with a ute or a flat bed truck decorates their vehicle in Christmas attire and meets at the pub where hay bales are provided as seating (where from, I’m not sure? they are just there), each vehicle is loaded with local children and we all follow Santa around the streets, tooting our horns, calling Merry Christmas to those residents who are still at home and singing Christmas carols.
Santa has had a myriad of entrances from skydiving in to traveling by horse and buggy but more often lately, he’s atop the local Rural Fire Service (RFS) truck. He gives out donated bags of lollies, RFS showbags and Christmas cake for the older residents. It takes us about 2 hours to get around the dozen or so streets in our village and when we’re done, we all head back to the pub (where the parents have been having child-free time and connecting with each other) where we all celebrate together with a free sausage sizzle, live music and plenty of fun!
Every year, I drive a ute. My kids, who are now older, have not missed a year (until very recently when my eldest daughter moved interstate) and what I witness as part of the beauty of ongoing community-led engagement is that the young people and young adults are now the driving force of the Hay Ride because they grew up with it and they recognise its’ value and importance! They want to be part of it and they make sure there are enough utes, hay and room for all the younger children! Some of the earlier “children” are now married and bring their own small children!
So, where’s my church? It’s at the pub, which although is a social convenience, is also the backbone of engagement in my village.