The day after the UK Referendum in our old shop, Unit 1, something magical happened. We suddenly became very busy but not busy with sales, a different kind of busy as people from the local community came in throughout the day seeking friendship and connection, wanting to share the confusion of emotions they were feeling. It was at the point I understood that we hadn’t succeeded in creating a shop, but we had created a community.
That community, neither vast nor particularly vocal, was comprised of people who had made London their home from both inside and outside the UK. People from different culture and backgrounds, and people of different age groups, coming together to share, to talk and to listen and to explore at a deep level their own life experiences.
Over the Summer this community dispersed through holidays, dealing with difficult personal circumstances and unexpected changes. We focused on making changes to RSL, growing into our two spaces Unit 1 and 3, creating our Wellbeing Centre and our Community space, and growing in maturity as a business.
Last week we reopened our shop. No fanfare this time just quietly opening the doors again to the community. On Friday we held our first Friday tea, a drop in gathering suggested by local resident and storyteller, Jean-Marc Pierson, for those who want someone to share the story of their day. This co-incided with the World Day of Listening which seemed not only appropriate but maybe, for my own emotional response to the referendum, necessary.
Secretly I hoped that through my social media efforts that new faces would come streaming in. Where I developed this expectation from is something for self-reflection, as the reality was rather different. The people of Willesden Green did not come streaming in but instead something even more special happened. The community we had built came back. Not just in the individuals back from their Summer adventures but back was the feeling of community itself.
And I understood. Community is not about numbers it’s about connection. It’s being able to share who you are, your hopes, your fears. It’s being able to listen without judgment, to truly hear and truly see each other. It might start small, it might start with a cup of tea or a story but its size is irrelevant. It’s whether you can feel it.
And in Willesden Green, this tiny patch of London, I feel it. It’s quiet and sometimes only a whisper but if you stop, for a moment, you’ll see…
Love and light