They say ‘build it and they will come’ however I spend most of my working day convincing folk that’s bunkum. Tell people something is being built, explain why, invite them to be involved; then they might come and even tell others.
It’s been a week since 198 cyclists paraded along my street. I say my street because from my house I can see the place where me and my family stood in the central reservation of the A61 to watch the Tour de France pass by. It’s the street down which I get the bus most days into Leeds where I work. It’s the street up which I brought my youngest son home after he was born. It’s our street.
This is my view every morning as I wait for the bus. There’s usually a fair bit of traffic. Last Saturday however, the road was closed all day in both directions. The Tour de France came by in the outward lane and on the inward lane, children played on their bikes and people walked in the road without worrying about traffic.
After much publicity and awareness raising, folk came out to see the race and stood on the sides of the road.
Eventually plucking up courage to inhabit the central reservation.
The atmosphere gradually grew and as the grey skies cleared, more people arrived.
The sun finally came out on cue to welcome the publicity caravan and riders.
The above was a big deal for a fair few people. I’d supported my colleagues and those from other organisations who were involved in so many ways. A lot went on behind the scenes to make this happen and to cover anything affected as a result. Just a couple of examples here and here give an idea. Obviously it was also a big deal for the people who live on the street.
It was a big deal for me too as professional me and personal me both had an interest. So it was great to see that Yorkshire put on a good show and people came in their thousands to see it. They came from far and wide, out of their little boxes to see a bike race. People also came from their little boxes nearby; my neighbours, people I know and some I don’t but well enough to acknowledge. We all waited and watched together, sharing something that unfortunately rarely happens – a real feeling of community spirit.
And for 2 hours it was perfect. People dressed up, brought food and drinks out of their houses to share, set canopies up in their front gardens, got dressed up and decorated their houses. It disrupted the neighbourhood, but perhaps in a good way too.
But as soon as it arrived, off it went winding it’s way to other communities where people had gathered to wave flags, share food, and conversation and generally be more sociable than they normally might. The street returned to normal.
And whilst the Tour de France was the focus, I’m left with a sense that the race was a minor part of what happened in my street, neighbourhood and city last Saturday. And maybe that’s the case in other streets and neighbourhoods that it passed through too. The bigger thing is perhaps what it might have done; bringing people out of their little boxes to meet each other and share something; to experience hopefully what I felt. Talking to others this week in my street and at work, that seems to be their feeling too.
But then this. Whether the figures are right or wrong, the discussion is timely as I couldn’t help thinking as we all disappeared back to our little boxes and our own micro-worlds after the race that we may be walking by other little boxes and folk who’d missed the opportunity to share what we just had.
Some may not want that, some may not have an interest in cycling or the commercial side of the event, some may have not known about it, hard to believe I know after the promotion but they might not. There might be some who would have loved to have been part but couldn’t get there, those who were able but not confident in crowds and those who had nobody to go with.
It’s almost a week ago to the hour that I walked down the street to watch the Tour de France. I want it back. If I could go back in time one week exactly I would.
I’m writing this as my family are still sleeping. I wonder how many older folk are sat on their own right this minute wanting to go back to times when they had someone who’s no longer with them? I wonder how many folk are sat wishing they had something to do today or someone to do things with?
I know there’s plenty going on to try and reduce loneliness or social isolation as it is unfortunately termed but I know it’s a big problem. Even though I work in communications for social care services, last Saturday made me see that. I’ll be sure as hell trying my best in my job to create and promote opportunities that might help.
I suppose that’s my TdF legacy.