As Worthing’s magnolia trees are in full flower, and a small patch of snowdrops has emerged in the front garden of Thompson Towers, I can’t help but reflect on something Tim, from The Beekeepers, said a couple of years ago; we love the blossom so much because it’s temporary, because it has a short life.
He was likening blossom to pop up shops, but it a good thought about any temporary intervention, occasional use of space or momentary action.
I’ve always favoured temporary, nomadic and transient projects; not through any fear of commitment, but because I like the way they inspire other people to follow them up with their own acts. Pop ups unlock the potential of people and places.
Last August, a month when the late summer heat hazed the South Downs and I spent the summer holidays swimming with my children in the sea, I started something which lasted a day but has rippled through the subsequent months.
#riotcleanup was a simple, open, honest response to the riots that had spread across London and then were imitated across England. I asked my friends on Twitter to help their local shopkeeper, if they had been affected by the riots. Get a broom, I Tweeted, some black sacks – nothing complicated, nothing political just an hour of helping somebody else. Sophie Collard, a travel writer with an abnormal interest in train travel, added a hashtag, #riotcleanup. And musician Sam Duckworth started a Twitter account to help to amplify the message.
An incredible number of people heard it, of course, and the images have become iconic; this week #riotcleanup is on the front cover of the Riots Communities & Victims Panel report into August’s unrest and last week it was light entertainment in an Omid Djalili dance for Sport Relief.
Looking after the place where I live is something I’ve always done; on the council estate where I grew up, proud ladies swept their garden paths, tidied away rubbish from communal areas and berated us children for our untidiness. Later I organised neighbours to clear up neglected green spaces on the Maybridge Estate. And during heavy snow in 2009, I mobilised residents to clear packed snow and ice from a footbridge. I’m not interested in becoming a ‘volunteer’ for somebody’s organisation, but am more than willing to stand up when my community needs help.
So, seven months after the riots, one of the ripples has hit the shore with an amazing opportunity. NESTA, with the Office of Civil Society, are investing in projects with the potential to increase in the giving and exchange of time, assets, skills, resources and money.
They’re supporting an idea Sophie and I had in discussions at the RSA in the weeks after #riotcleanup. So in the coming months, we’re developing #futurecleanup – a website which will use Twitter and Facebook to help people organise small, local, community actions all year round.
The same things that happened on the Maybridge Estate, many years ago, but with the power of the networks behind it. I went back to the estate, last week, to be photographed for the Worthing 50 project; the redbrick 1948 houses still look magnificent in the sunshine. But even more glorious is the blossom on the trees edging the streets.