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A row of houses with colourful bunting draped between each house.

Case study: plan a street party

Projects are better, easier and more fun if you plan them with others.

Liz Harper from Age and Opportunity describes a short case study of a street party, a project that she was personally involved in:

I live in a street in Dublin’s inner city. As someone who has only lived on the street for the past ten years, I know some of my neighbours very well and some I know hardly at all. A few years ago, the oldest resident on the terrace was given a surprise birthday party, which was organised by another neighbour. It took place in January in one of the houses on the street and it was lovely to have time to talk with neighbours, to hang out, and to get to know people a bit better.

A month later, a few of the party-goers, including myself, were chatting about the idea of doing something else along the same lines. So, we invited everyone on the street to a meeting and suggested having a street party.

The first meeting

  • At that meeting, we collectively worked out the tasks, such as meeting with the local authority to close the road, informing the police, deciding on the food arrangements, organising the music, and letting others know.
  • Once we identified the tasks, we divided up the jobs and a few people took responsibility for each part of the event.

As a group, we could also decide what we were not going to do.

  • One big decision we took at the meeting was not to include any fundraising as part of this project. This made the organising a lot easier, as it removed any issues around accounting, receipts, and it also meant that nobody was tasked with asking for or collecting money. It also meant that the party would go ahead without having to be dependent on obtaining external funding.

  • We also realised that the best approach was to ask people to bring their own food and drink, along with something to share with others. In the end, we agreed that simplicity was best and, of course, as often happens, there was a good mix of food for sharing. There were also other unintended benefits to keeping it simple; it meant that there was room for other people to contribute, which they did. Even on the day of the event, people brought out tables and chairs from their own houses for their neighbours to use.

Overcoming challenges

Any organising has its share of anxiety. Many of us had never done anything like this before and we weren’t entirely sure how to do this.

  • We overcame our doubts by supporting each other and by considering alternative approaches if the first idea failed. There were always a few of us to remind one another of why we were doing it: to have a bit of fun.
  • Working together as neighbours helped to make it feel like an adventure and, like all good adventures, it had its tougher parts to overcome. For example, when it came time to write formal letters to officials, a few people worked together to draft and edit these communications.

We organised what we could in advance. We located barbecue stations in a few front gardens. Some of the neighbours staffed those stations and anyone from the road could bring food to be cooked. A neighbour, who is a DJ, organised the music and he really threw himself into it, drawing up a fantastic playlist of great music. This led to the kind of dancing in the street which would have made Martha Reeves proud.

The day of the party

On the day, it was a party that everyone had a part in. Participants ranged from four-year-olds to those in their mid-80s. Children were able to ride their bikes on the road as it was closed off to traffic. People of all ages sat out on deckchairs in the street and spent time together. Neighbours danced in the open air. Even the street’s pets ran about without a care and enjoyed a few stray sausages.

And, of course, what about the rain? The possibility of rain – especially in Ireland – is something that might stop anyone from organising an outdoor event. Well, I can confirm that it was showery on the day of our first street party and we took it in our stride. We were all close to home so people ran and got umbrellas, came back out, and stood in the rain, chatting and laughing it off. Some of the food got whisked away until the clouds passed and some things got wet, but this didn’t spoil the enjoyment.

Other things cropped up on the day:

  • We realised that we didn’t have a recycling station, so we quickly organised for all recycling to be gathered in the boot (trunk) of one person’s car who then brought it all down to the bottle bank/recycling centre on the following morning.
  • This is the kind of ‘on the hoof’ issue that groups can deal with on the day as long as they have a sensible yet positive attitude, as well as a group of participants who are willing to work together.

Looking back, what brought people together and got them interested was that they could look forward to having fun at the party. Neighbours cooperated and took responsibility for what they felt comfortable contributing. The work was shared and each person chose what they wanted to do. There was plenty of room for people to play a part, however large or small, either in the preparation or on the day.

Your context

Once you have taken part in a successful event, you may find more people willing to be involved in subsequent years. Once an idea is tested and works, people love to be involved. For example, once we threw our party, a number of residents from other streets in our area came to talk to us to find out how we did it, in order to throw their own parties.

There are many opportunities to stay engaged with your community. Planning a street party is a wonderful way to meet new neighbours. Such events strengthen ties between neighbours and this lasts much longer than the initial event.

  • How do you stay connected to your neighbours?

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Strategies for Successful Ageing

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