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“ I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.”

I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.

The evocative final line of A Streetcar Named Desire has been reverberating in my mind over the last week as I have been involved in the setting up of our work for Citizen Power in Peterborough, meeting people, looking for office and meeting spaces and generally getting to know the place. The quote was sparked by the lecture at the RSA last week by Paul Seabright on his book The Company of Strangers.

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He referred to the modern world being constructed on everyday exchanges between strangers, often based on necessities such as getting to work but also on all those seemingly meaningless interactions that relate to a highly momentary reality such as the weather. He spoke of hard wired empathetic abilities that have more influence that we might imagine and it got me thinking about how I have been getting to know the two cities I am working with. How do these seemingly serendipitous exchanges inform our perceptions about a place? Do we value what they can reveal or indeed, take them seriously enough to include them in our thinking? In Manchester, while scoping for the Area Based Curriculum opportunities, I was consciously engaging in a series of serendipitous meetings; actively looking for them, taking the chance that strangers will stop what they are doing and speak to you. You get a different kind of perspective, often a very immediate and genuine kind of one. People often reveal something much more direct, honest and critical to a stranger in a momentary situation.

In my previous work with Creative Partnerships, schools were increasingly enthusiastic about creative learning walks in their own communities as a way of deepening learning back in the classroom. With regard to my current work in Peterborough, I have been relying much more on the scoping data and my meetings with those who are much more knowledgeable about the city than I am. However, I suspect that I

have missed a step here in not purposefully engaging with the serendipitous and reflecting on what this can reveal and as a consequence, developing a personal relationship with the place. But all this also reveals the extra dimension of kindness or the lack of in these everyday interactions and the willingness to engage and offer something of yourself. A friend and Fellow of the RSA, Tom Andrews is structuring his work on engagement in Herne Bay around valuing kindness.

And I am wondering what the connections are between kindness and developing attachment to place, engagement and participation and the value of talking to strangers and of course, what this means for how I start to better understand the places I am working within.

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