‘How will we help those in need when the Olympic Route Network cuts off our communities?’ was the topic of conversation among local Anglican clergy back in December 2011. Highway Neighbours was an initiative of four Anglican churches (St Peter’s London Docks, St Paul’s Shadwell, St Mary Cable Street, and St George-In-The-East) which sought to bring the community of Shadwell and Wapping together to meet the challenges that would be brought by the local impact of the Olympics. Many were afraid of the inevitable difficulties the Olympic Route Network would bring, interrupting important day-to-day services, including public transport to hospitals and shops, and the delivery of food and supplies. Institutions from across the Highway including Darul Ummah mosque, St Patrick’s RC Church, and English Martyrs’ school joined together for the purpose of identifying those who would need help, and providing help which reflected this need.
‘Highway News’ leaflets were distributed to 8,000 homes, a website and designated phone line established, and publicity material including posters and banners raising awareness of the project were placed across the community. We had two questions: ‘are you someone who will need support or help during the Olympics?’ and, ‘would you like to be part of a team of people helping others made vulnerable by the impact of the games?’ We visited everything from the Wapping Bingo, the Sure Start centre and the youth club at Darul Ummah mosque, to a series of coffee afternoons and lunch clubs asking these questions. Coffee and cake became key features of this project!
Providing more local information Speaking to the people most dependent on local services, it became clear that they felt fearful and frustrated about what the impact of the Olympic Route Network might be. In response, Highway Neighbours organised a meeting with TFL to try to help us prepare for the challenges. We then produced information leaflets which responded to the specific needs and questions of local people – including bus routes, road maps, and hospital routes.
Olympic drop-in centres north and south of the Highway. In order to ensure anyone who needed it could be helped during the Olympics, Highway Neighbours opened 4 Olympic drop-in centres, two north of the Highway – Darul Ummah Mosque and St George-In-The-East church, and two south of the Highway – St Peter’s London Docks, and St Paul’s Shadwell. Two designated phone lines were also set up for information, one in Bengali and one in English. 8,000 homes received information about these opportunities.
By the end of the process approximately 20,000 people had been informed about the project, of whom almost 1,000 had face-to-face contact with Highway Neighbours. Everyone who had requested help or advice in order to cope during the Olympics received support.
So what does this mean for the future? Does Highway Neighbours blow out its Olympic torch? With excitement for the potential of working together on other specific initiatives, Highway Neighbours is not over! In the short-term, Highway Neighbours will be carol singing at local coffee events for the elderly in December. In the medium term we’re working on putting together a list of all the local community groups who could offer services to people. In the longer term we’re looking to find fun ways to get together and celebrate the community. Have you got ideas? Watch this space!