Putting on music events, art shows and festivals is an exercise in bringing people together. But there’s alot more to it than going ‘look this is happening – get involved’. This is what we were exploring on Saturday at the second Headstart day at the lovely offices of the School for Social Entrepreneurs.
We started the day by talking about good and bad experiences of parties. Here are four things that came out of the discussion:
1. Good parties are in unusual places (One Headstarter had even been to a party on the DLR)
2. Good parties have people who have made an effort
This means more than just buying a ticket, or just turning up with some beer. Sometimes it means dressing up, sometimes it means clapping, sometimes, it means getting involved in games.
3. Good parties have the right kind of rules
Telling people to wear mustaches is good. Telling people to wear the right shoes is bad.
4. Good parties have a balance of the expected and the unexpected
This is Dan whose job is producing festivals – he has to think about this when he decides what goes where on a festival site.
Basically parties are good when they create the necessary pretext for people do and experience things that they wouldn’t normally. Lucy’s story in the afternoon about her blackout project was a pretty good case-study in how to do this.
Somebody in the discussion said that a good party makes it ok to ‘become another person’ which struck a chord with me as I’m organising a party at the moment for the climax of my Hometaping project – here are my friend’s Pete and Basil talking about it.
I think this kind of thing about ‘people doing things that they wouldn’t normally do’ – is a key part of many different kinds of events. This is another of my friends Alison, who as a part of her job at The Young Foundation organises events and conferences.
Although these aren’t parties as such, they play to similar rules. She wants conferences where people aren’t just sitting around and listening to people talking at them – she wants people to be talking, having conversations and engaging with ideas. At parties you want the people to become the party. The same is true for Alison’s conferences.
We also heard from Heather on Saturday, who told her story of her Urban Orchard – which was a brilliant example of a place that was able to bring people together. The Orchard as a place seemed to fulfill most of our preconditions for good parties, but what was interesting about Heather’s talk was not just the amazing place she created, but how she was able to do it with almost no money. Key to this was the number of organisations and people that she was able to encourage to be a part of the Orchard. If you want to bring people together – a great way to do it is to bring together people and organisations who bring their own communities – and the best way to do that is to provide them with a great place to do that, in this case – a whacky Orchard. This is a similar trick to that pulled by my friend Melissa on an Urban Beach she ran in summer 2007.
People like Melissa and Heather make social spaces. I think that they are somehow responding to cities which can often feel quite bleak and fragmented – not very social. After lunch we went out to look for social spaces in and around London Bridge. Most of the places that we visited, didn’t really bring people together. We tended to encounter frictionless environments where people could easily move past one another, or otherwise we just found enclaves colonized by one group or community. This is the natural order of things and is rarely contested – although Borough Market with its mixture of sensory experiences, drawing different groups and types seemed to be an exception.
So bringing people together is about creating well hosted, experiences and friendly social places – but it’s also about getting people to come there in the first place. As Sam, who runs the London Hammer and Tongue (on tonight at The Victoria in Hackney/ £3 to get in), explains in this video, this is hard work.
As he explains the first people to invite are your friends – but breaking out of that can quickly be hard. One approach is to find other people who have friends (like Melissa and Heather did) and making friends with them. The other approach, as we discovered in the final discussion requires a massive PR budget to blow on posters, advertising hoardings, hot-people to hand out your flyers and talk about your event. Unfortunately we won’t have this for the Headstart House.
So that’s pretty much what we did on Saturday, but just before I finish here, I’ll come clean. I am interested in the art of bringing people together, because I think that people can achieve more together with other people than they can one their own. And even though other people get on your tits, by and large they are what we know and what we can do. There are no lone geniuses people! And I don’t believe in the kind of organisations where people have rigidly defined roles and responsibilities, to instruct and direct others to do what they have to do. People work best in a culture with the right kind of rules/environment etc that enables them to work with others. So basically everything is better when it’s a bit more like a party and if you can find ways of making that happen in your work, you’ll do well. Or er, at least, get a headstart.