I had lived on the street for over a decade and didn’t really know all my neighbours. You didn’t meet people from the other end of the street, as you just walk out of the road so never went down there.Jools, who organised the 2023 Riviera Gardens Great Get Together
The Great Get Together brings together communities across the UK, whether they are inspired by faith, a common interest, or are simply neighbours. One neighbourhood which comes together each year is Riviera Gardens, a small cul-de-sac in north Leeds. The neighbours first gathered through the Great Get Together when it began in 2017, inspired by a call to action shared on a local Facebook group. Since then, every June, the road has united to celebrate the Great Get Together on the weekend of Jo Cox’s birthday.
“When the first event took place,” says Jools, who was lead organiser of this year’s event, “I had lived on the road for over a decade but didn’t really know all my neighbours. You didn’t meet people from the other end of the street, as you just walk out of the road so never went down there.”
The first event, back in 2017, was simple; organised by a couple of neighbours, they applied to the council to close their road and posted letters through doors so everyone knew what was going to happen – something which is particularly important especially to make contact with older people who might not use social media. They then put out tables, chairs and refreshments to share on the street outside. It was a huge success, allowing people to meet and connect, so much so they decided to do it again that Christmas.
The Riviera Gardens Great Get Togethers have continued ever since, bringing the community together around the spirit of Jo Cox’s ‘more in common’ message. The aim is to keep in contact with neighbours and welcome new people to the community, ensuring that everyone stays in touch and feels included.
Since the first gathering, Jools volunteered to lead the organisation of the event. As normal, it was kept as straightforward as possible. She enlisted children living in the road to design an invitation which she could copy and print, which they then delivered to everyone. It let them know that to take part, you just needed to bring something to drink and eat and come on by – the main message is just to turn up.
Part of the reason they continue to hold a Great Get Together each year is to welcome new arrivals to the street. This year, a couple were about to move in, but hadn’t yet done so and couldn’t make the event. To include them, one of the neighbours took photos and short video clips of the Great Get Together, allowing them to feel part of the event and to ‘meet’ their new neighbours.
The connections created by the Great Get Together have benefits which go beyond the day itself. The relationships generated have helped build a true community; the street feels safer and people have been able to share knowledge and skills, whether that be through recommending tradespeople, to coming together to support local wildlife. It’s a holistic approach; as people now know each other, they’re far more confident letting their children play out or dealing with common problems.
The connections made have created a virtuous circle; the more people connect, the more they work together and the stronger the community feels. For example, thanks to connections made at the Great Get Together, Facebook and a WhatsApp group, the street has applied for a ‘Hey Neighbour’ fund to buy a gazebo and bench for the green which can act as a focal point for the neighbourhood. This has helped people of all ages come together to sit, relax and connect at the centre of the street in a way that wasn’t previously possible. Football goals have been erected on the green as well, with communal footballs being stored and shared so children can play out together.
In winter 2021, the neighbours took part in the Chapel Allerton living Advent calendar, with the street taking on a number and creating a special display to mark their ‘day’ of Advent. This was followed by a ‘switch-on’ party on the green. When issues occurred with anti-social behaviour and graffiti, the street was able to unite to find a solution.
The sense of community and positive changes on the street all came from an initial spark; people uniting at a Great Get Together.