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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Diary of a street party, part 2
Screen grab of website
Bill and Ben star in the 1953 party

Thousands of street parties are expected over the Jubilee weekend. Here, in the second part of our diary of an East London street party, the web plays its part.
Only one house in our street was dead set against our Jubilee party. But the rest of us, having resolved to press ahead come what may, decided we were going to have some fun.

We needed to find a way to keep in touch with each other. The image of neighbours bumping in to each other in the street, or chatting in front gardens, is a romantic one. But for most people, and especially those who work, it is a fiction.

Once upon a time, certainly within the past century, men living in the same street would stand a good chance of working at the same place as their neighbours.

Street party 1977
Remember the 1970s?
Women on the street would know each other. The children would grow up in each other's pockets. Families tended not to move around very much.

But life has changed. Fewer people in the UK know their neighbours. More women go out to work. Everyone seems to work longer hours. When not at work, many people keep themselves to themselves. Older folk lament the death of "good neighbourliness".


Diary of a street party




Robert D Putnam has written about the decline in community in the US in his best-selling book Bowling Alone, and it's fair to say that some of the same things he describes have also happened in the UK.

Have we, in short, become Bubble People?

All this has been happening while the net has been encouraging virtual communities of every conceivable interest group to flourish.

How could it be that people spend hours talking to friends in, for instance, alt.collecting.8-track-tapes but not know the bloke who lives next door? They might not even know if their newsgroup friend IS the person who lives next door to them.

Out of their face

Online communication lets people stay in their bubble if they want. So we decided a website was the way to reach people for our street party without getting in their faces. It also provides a ready topic of conversation for those neighbours they know by sight but not to speak to.

What we didn't expect was that it would change our attitude to the party itself.

We bought a domain name for our street, and then set the site up as a weblog, using the excellent free web-based Blogger system, hosting it for free on their servers.

Street in 70s
What our street looked like in the 70s
The system lets you sign up several people as authors of the blog, so all of a sudden we had created a community website which was easier for people to update than checking a bank account online.

The next advance came with pictures. A couple of people volunteered pictures of the 1977 Silver Jubilee party to put on the site, which we did. Some of the people were recognisable, the street itself certainly was.

What changed

Then someone offered pictures from the Coronation itself, which had been taken in a party at a school at the end of the road. That two of the boys were dressed as Bill and Ben pressed home the point that not so much had changed.

Some of those children in the photos are now 50-somethings, living in the street. Others still visit parents.

Then we were offered a picture of a street party taken some time in the 1930s - we suspect for George V's silver jubilee in 1935. Some faces are still recognised by the more senior residents.

And again, the street is clearly recognisable.

It struck us that not only were we planning a bit of fun at our street party, it had almost become our duty to have a party. If the people who had lived in our very houses had partied in 1935, 1953, and 1977, how could we justify not doing the same?

So this weekend the decorations are going up (our early reluctance to flaunt the Union flag has evaporated), supplies are being bought in, and 70s style flares and collars are being ironed.

Now England just expects the weather to do its duty.


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