Campaigning With Common Cause Case Study – Streets Alive

July 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Cross-posted from Common Cause.

This Common Cause Campaign Case Study is part of a series of stories that share the experience of organisations that grasp the importance of cultural values in third sector campaigning. We hope that these real-life examples of transformation inspire and empower you to push organisational boundaries and improve how we campaign together.

If you’d like to discuss these stories, or find out more about them, come along to the Campaigning with Common Cause get-together every second Wednesday of the month.

“The complexity of challenges such as the recession, ageing population, social diversity and climate change cannot be resolved by the conventional machinery available to local and national government. Nor does the power to tackle them lie with individuals’ private lives alone. There is then a need to build a new resilience and collective capacity within communities to help respond to these shared challenges.” Chris Gittins

Streets Alive works in communities to build relationships between neighbours on a mass scale to empower them to strengthen their community. Since 2001 the team has been providing tools, training and advice to increase social connection and inclusion at a street level.

I spoke to Chris Gittins, Director of Streets Alive about how his approach has changed from trying to convince people to being in service to them and how his work focuses on building relationships and designing experiences which shift people’s attitudes and behaviours.

What did they set out to do differently?

Chris had worked in the environmental and sustainable transport sector and was frustrated by how behaviour change was often encouraged through focusing on the facts, rather than engaging with people’s emotions and values. The quality of relationships in his work was often unsatisfying; communicating with the external world through the newsletter was always at the bottom of the priority list, for example. Campaigns he worked on felt transactional and unfulfilling.

He set up Streets Alive expressly to be part of mainstream society, not wanting to be countercultural. With two permanent staff and 5-15 temporary staff around the country, it remains a small organisation dedicated to a model of service to a movement of street parties all-year round.

Reframing campaigning

Streets Alive doesn’t have any local activists or organisers. That is to say, local organisers do not belong to Streets Alive – they are completely independent and can organise a street party or event in any way they like. The organisation is there to serve the needs of these people, so that the center and ownership always lies with the people making the events happen. The website and resources are purposefully designed not to look flashy – what local organisers need is functionality first. This strong ethos of self-direction lies at the center of everything Streets Alive do.

What has their impact been?

Based in Bristol, Streets Alive have made it the street party capital of the UK with over 200 events every year. Events happening in their street means that 50 to 90% of households take part, including marginalised households. On average, residents meet eight new neighbours. Four in five report that it brought together people of different backgrounds, transforming perceptions of their area, making people feel, safer and an increase in friendliness and a sense of belonging.

But the street parties are about more than just the relational ties of the community. A tighter community is more likely to take action on local and even global issues. Most often, follow-up events include actions like a street or local park cleanup.

Street parties also often make sustainable behaviours the focus of the party – cycling, collaborative consumption or sharing a garden on community green space, for example.

What have they learned?

  • Show, don’t tell – Streets Alive started with the idea of creating car-free days, to give people the experience of the street as a social space. However, when asking people ‘do you want to experience your street as a social space?’ responses were usually nonplussed. Instead, by creating street parties where people experience the joy of car-less streets and community, they start asking themselves ‘how can we have this every day?’ Allowing for this self-discovery is crucial to the success of community action.
  • Goodwill is there – learn how to tap it. Chris says that ‘there is more goodwill … than you can imagine. You’d be amazed by how many people want to be asked to be involved.’ There is a magical quality to street parties – they work explicitly with people’s intrinsic values to build friendship, helpfulness and a sense of community.

What does this mean for us as change-makers?

Streets Alive work with the knowledge that we all share intrinsic values, and therefore have the capacity for action on bigger-than-self issues based on intrinsic motivations. What Chris and his team do so well is to translate this into everyday language and activity.

Their approach of full empowerment represents a reframe for campaigning from being professional agents delivering social change on behalf of our supporters to being in service to a wider movement, bringing their skills and expertise to empower others to take action to create social change.


Chris Gittins

0117 922 5708

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