You, me, the world and Barnet
Barnet is an area full of contradictions: both thriving and struggling too. Here, people are frustrated with the pandemic, Barnet Council, and, each other. But they also have a huge amount of goodwill, tolerance, hope and determination.
I am the co-founder of take stock exchange, a company that uses the power of storytelling to build stronger communities. Earlier this year we partnered with artsdepot in North Finchley to deliver a project called You, Me, the World & Barnet where we met up with a diverse set of community groups from within Barnet to ‘take stock’ and ‘exchange’ opinions about the borough.
At our first meeting, we asked three questions: Is Barnet a great place to be? Do you feel connected to other people in Barnet? Will the future be better than the present? At our second meeting, we told the story of what happened when we met each group. Like this, we hoped to enable empathy, widen perspectives, and strengthen civic pride.
Inevitably, the pandemic was discussed by everyone. Barnet’s green spaces were celebrated, as were its more urban assets, with many people saying they have access to the best of both worlds. The health of the borough’s community spirit was hotly debated. Perceived Council corruption, the inadequacy of support services and their outsourcing was consistently bemoaned across the age spectrum, and it was arrestingly apparent how political decisions at a local government level can have such a large impact on people’s lives. Whether it be an older person whose support services have been cut, a middle-aged person frustrated with council inaction, or a young person dismayed at the shortening of library opening hours.
Whether people felt connected to other people in Barnet varied. A number of older people were lonely but some said the opposite. One woman said she ‘couldn’t handle any more connections!’ after developing a wide social network because ‘I’m very nosey.’ In contrast, a little girl quietly told us how lonely she felt living with a single mother whose attention was focused on her autistic brother.
Perhaps the most striking thing to come out of the project, however, was the variety of perspectives people can have on a single issue. Not only did people’s responses vary massively, but demographic indicators couldn’t be used as a predictor of someone’s response.
Each time we told the stories of the conversations we’d facilitated, we invited people to discuss them afterwards. Some remarks stood out. For two young women, it was strange that some felt so connected in a certain area, whereas others, living close by, were isolated: ‘they’re in the same community but it feels like they’re in completely different worlds’. I felt mildly outraged when another participant said that people suffering from the pandemic should stop moaning.
Usually, we would host a live event at the end of the project, where everyone who’s taken part is invited to come together to eat, talk, and listen to us tell the story of the project. Restrictions on social contact meant this wasn’t possible, but, we recorded a podcast instead, featuring the stories and the voices of many of the people who took part, offering their opinions, wrestling with the picture painted of Barnet and what it means, and that is freely available for anyone to listen.
One of the final voices you hear on the podcast belongs to a teenage girl. She says, simply, that people should be kinder. We could dismiss this as the naivety of youth. Or, we can choose to see it as an entirely necessary directive if we’re going to realise a vision for a brighter future.
The ‘You, Me, the World & Barnet’ podcast is available on all podcast platforms now, with captioned versions available on the take stock exchange website: