Street parties aren't strictly a royal affair
BRISTOL MP Charlotte Leslie is calling for the street party spirit of the summer of 2012 to continue, by bringing in an annual Street Party Sunday.
The MP for Bristol North West visited 25 of the street parties taking place in her constituency earlier in the summer to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee, and she was "overwhelmed by the way the street parties brought communities together".
"The street parties were particularly successful when it came to bringing together neighbours from across the generational divide," she said. "Elderly residents, who perhaps had been a little nervous of the teenagers in their street, had the chance to meet them and realise they were not in fact vindictive, but were just energetic teenagers.
"The parties brought the communities so much closer, not just on the day itself, but also in the weeks before when neighbours came together to plan the parties."
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Ms Leslie hopes an annual "excuse for a street party" each September would allow communities to continue the tradition, with the minimum of red tape.
The idea has been given support by Streets Alive, a Bristol-based organisation which works in communities to build relationships between neighbours to empower them to strengthen their community.
Bristol was dubbed the "street party capital of Britain" after residents hosted the most parties behind London during the jubilee.
The city has long been a flag bearer for organising street parties, with residents able to organise events and have roads closed for no charge.
Ms Leslie said: "During the jubilee I managed to get round 25 superb street parties across my constituency in a cup-cake fuelled weekend.
"All the parties I visited were different, with their own particular highlights; but all similar in the way they brought generations together, and introduced neighbours to each other, who often had lived within yards of each other for years but never made proper contact.
"It struck me how many people said their relationships with neighbours on their street would now be different – more looking out for each other when people are on holiday, baby- sitting or pet-sitting.
"I was also struck by how many people said they would love an excuse or reason to do something like this more often – not only when I asked them when the party was in full swing, but even weeks later when they had tackled all the clearing up.
"Obviously, it is for communities to decide if they want to hold a party, and what sort of party it would be, but allocating a special Sunday, or weekend, every year could provide the perfect opportunity for any neighbours who want to get together, or have something to celebrate, to use this special occasion to do so.
"Those in the know suggest that the best time may be the first half of September which avoids holidays – and if recent years are anything to go by, produces good weather as soon as the schools go back.
"I'm happy to work with all to see Bristol's Street Party Sunday take off, if it's something the city wants."
Ms Leslie denied that the notion would be seen as a nebulous exercise during the height of the worst economic crisis to hit Bristol communities for more than a generation. "It is precisely when times are tough that communities need to come together more," she said.
"It may be true that street parties would once have happened more organically among communities, but because of the social changes in people's lives – especially the longer commutes people make – which make it harder for communities to socialise together.
"When you also consider the general influence of cars in streets, it is clear we do have to formalise street parties more, if only to be able to arrange closing the street to cars."
Chris Gittins, of Streets Alive, said: "This is a great idea and I hope it works for lots of people across the city.
"I hope people cling on to the feel-good factor from this summer and start to plan parties for next year.
"A Sunday in September is the perfect time for a street party – the schools are back, residents have all summer to plan it and we still hopefully have the good weather."
Ms Leslie praised Bristol City Council for leading the way on street parties and on helping residents avoid red tape. She paid special tribute to organisations like Streets Alive for their work in getting Government to scrap street party red tape and encouraged other areas to take advantage of the new changes.