After travelling I found it very difficult to settle back into the normal routine of living in England. Everything was too small and so very grey. I was not working and to be honest I had changed. Old friends and acquaintances only know the old me. They asked about the trip like I had just come back from two weeks in Benidorm. One ex work colleague was shocked to see me, I thought you were off travelling she said. I was, I said, I have been away five months. The look on her face was priceless. She was still in the same job with the same problems doing the same things. In the meantime I had been around the world. I had moved on and she was in exactly the same place as she had been five months ago.
With many people I discovered that when they asked how the trip went, they were just being polite. Eyes glazed over when you talked about the Remarkable Rocks or your first kangaroo. They didn’t get it or me anymore. Some of them understood that I couldn’t slot back into my old life like nothing had happened. Others who had travelled understood, and like a secret society, we share tales of Down Under. And some like the new version more.
I made new friends in New Zealand and Australia and despite the distance and despite the fact they only spent a few days with me, they know me better than most of my old friends, because they met the person who was on a journey. I wasn’t judged by what job I did or what clothes I wore, which is just as well as my wardrobe was limited and I took no makeup with me.
On my return, I made a choice to get involved with a group of local people who were bidding for Portas Pilot funding. They like me were passionate about the neighborhood they lived in and concerned about the ever increasing number of shops that were closing. These were people I had never met before and the joy of that was that they were meeting the new me and had no reference to my past. All they knew was that I had just got back from travelling and had a background in community development.
I joined in a challenge to shop locally, driven by the bid, to discover what our local shops did and did not provide. As a result of the shopping challenge and driven by a passion to feed themselves and their families well, (watch out Jamie Oliver) a group of women then established the Bearwood Pantry. I am amazed by their energy and commitment to the project.
Others working on the bid had organised successful events such as the Bearwood Shuffle and Bearwood Handmade so were doers not talkers, my kind of people. Together we surveyed shoppers and traders, made a film about our high street, using the talents of local people and did the best we could with the tools and time we had available. Many of us gave up our weekends to ensure we consulted the wider community at events such as the Lightwoods Park Festival.
As a result of being involved with the Portas Pilot I am privileged to have met some very lovely people in Bearwood. Many are not born and bred Bearwoodians (including a German, a Canadian and a couple of Ozzies). This may be why they challenge and question, in the same way that I have and will continue to do so, the lack of real choice on the high street for food and the lack of a real community hub that is not faith based. They have seen that in their home communities and have seen it in other communites in England. As I do when I travel both home and abroad. A space where we can take our family, our knitting or our lap top and meet with likeminded people. Places like Six Eight Cafe. Conduct business, share skills, run craft workshops, listen to story tellers, poets, live music and Book Cross. Dare I say, even have a pop up library.
All these things can and do happen in other high streets and towns. Why not Bearwood? In the meantime this is our high street. I think we deserve better.