Here is an email that one of our dedicated volunteers, Iain Chambers wrote to our first shareholder and Brighton Pavilion MP, Caroline Lucas.
It’s 2.30 am and I can’t sleep so I thought I’d write this so I might stop thinking about it. My chef G at my cafe is not feeling too good, and that raises the possibility of me not being able to meet you on Thursday as planned. So if I at least send this, I would have achieved something this week, in a month when time seems so precious.
It was great to hear you speak at Meaning Conference, and the other speakers were also inspirational to me. Prof Karen Pine in particular moved me to Do Something Different. So instead of wishing I had the chance to ask all those people in the Corn Exchange for help regarding the Hall, I asked Will McInnes if he would let me do just that. And, typical of Will, he did so (though he looked worried, as did my wife, who is a director at Nixon McInnes). It was terrifying, and my hat goes off to you for doing something like that on a regular basis. The lights dazzling you so you can’t really see the audience is particularly disconcerting.
So to reach my point. It occurs to me that we are where we are my Prestonville community because the hall on Exeter St needs a new roof. The failing roof makes the whole hall a liability for the church, and so they want to sell it and use the proceeds to renovate their church on Stanford Rd.
And that strikes me as nicely symbolic of the bigger picture. Because our community needs that roof, that particular roof on Exeter St. We need it as surely as we all need a roof over our heads every night. The times that we are living in are very difficult (even when it can be simultaneously exciting). This economic depression will persist for several years, and people feel uneasy. Previously trusted institutions, the largest roofs, have failed us (banks, newspapers, big politics, the church, big business), and that only deepens our unease. Indy Johar said in his talk that“stripping us of our assets makes us all feel vulnerable”. That roof, and the space that lies beneath it, is our community’s asset, regardless of the fact we don’t own the deeds. Like the church, we have neglected it, failed to maintain it. We thought for a while that we’d be happy under our own individual roofs, especially as the houses they protected went up in price, and seemed to offer greater and greater financial security, but now we are finding that was an illusion. Now the hall’s roof is in jeopardy. If we lose it, under what will we gather?
Several speakers at the conference, yourself among them, made it clear that we do need to gather. We need to do things differently, and we need to do them together. As a community, we in Prestonville have started to do that (although joining this campaign has shown me that some people, like the ladies at the Trefoil Guild, have quietly been doing so for decades). The dedicated founder members of The Hall Get Involved group reached the decision to use a Victorian vehicle to save this Victorian building, and we have you as the first shareholder of our IPS. Now we have over 100 more. But far more valuable, more hopeful than that, we have rediscovered the benefits of what happens when a community acts in concert. We have heard from older people that they feel a little safer in the street. We have longstanding neighbours who now know each others names, and ask each other for help. We have streets that feel connected socially rather than just physically. We’ve used our pub more. We’ve asked our schoolchildren to help us (they ran in the park today, and each class will buy shares with the sponsor money). Good grief, we even have estate agents flourishing our share prospectus as proof of what a strong community their potential clients could move into! The campaign to save the hall has become our greatest ally, because it has revealed to us what can lie beyond if we still have a roof to gather under.
I realise that much of this you already know, and much of this is precisely what you believe in as a person, and as a politician. I’m sure that that is why you agreed to buy a share, and why you continue to offer your time and help to us. But the reason I wanted to speak with you again is that I am not so sure the church really see this bigger picture, and I wanted to ask if you could help us try to help them appreciate what is really happening here (and indeed right across the country). I would like us to approach the church afresh, and I was wondering if we could employ your standing as an MP to speed up that process. St Lukes is part of a diocese that is badly in need of a good news story.
I think the Hall could be just the beginning of that story. I am hoping we can show the vicar and the PCC at St Lukes Church that if they act in concert with the community, the end result could be much greater than a successful conclusion to our campaign. What could blossom from this is a renewed trust and spirit of co-operation between our community and St Luke’s Church. What could result is not one useful, renewed, vibrant community space but two spaces, because an envigorated community is going to need both spaces. What could result is two solar-panelled roofs, the first of many solar roofs in the area, all feeding in to our very own Prestonville Power Plant, that provides free heat for our park polytunnels in winter, for our new swimming pool, for the lights on the all-weather pitches we’ll install in Bhasvic field, for our community-owned electric cars. What could result is a shining example to other communities and other churches, across Brighton and across Great Britain: people answering their own eternal, internal need to gather together and make each other feel safer, happier and more fulfilled, close to the homes that they live in, and so able to help others that feel less safe, less secure, less at home.
I’m not a religious person (though I was brought up as a Catholic) but to be honest I’m not that fussed what labels we use as long as we realise that happiness largely lies close to home, safe amongst the people we live with, and live next to. What is needed here is a different approach, one that allows all concerned to aim higher by acting together. To build trust, to build hope, to build a better community, a better life and a better world, we need to start by building a new roof.
Thanks again for all your help, and I hope our meeting can go ahead as planned on Thursday. I will update you as soon as I hear that G is fit to work or not,
All the best
PS Sorry if I come across as some sort of demented village hall Bill Clinton. It is just that I been searching for a way to live locally. I hoped the cafe would be it (the majority of what I sell in the cafe is sourced in Sussex) but it isn’t. I think this hall, and its roof of course, is the gateway to living locally for me, my family and ultimately my city.