Jubilee street parties bring neighbours together

A street party celebrating the coronation of Elizabeth II, in 1953.

This weekend, Britain is set to come alive with street parties. The celebrations look back to a time of community spirit – and a sense of neighbourliness many think has been lost.

Jubilee weekend is on its way. Over the next week, Britain will be treated to a spectacular Thames Pageant, a concert at Buckingham Palace, and a two-day public holiday in honour of Her Majesty the Queen.

But of all the events in the royal extravaganza, nothing says Jubilee quite like a street party. Over 9,000 are set to take place this weekend – 4,000 more than were held for last year’s royal wedding.

The tradition of the neighbourhood knees-up goes back to in 1919, when jubilant Britons laid out tables in the streets and shared ‘Peace Teas’ to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War One. Since then, street parties have marked Jubilees, royal weddings and coronations, as well as less regal occasions like the Festival of Britain.

Many of this weekend’s celebrations will revive the jolly traditions of those long-ago times. Streets will be decked out with bunting; coronation chicken, a retro dish created for the 1953 crowning of Elizabeth II, might be shared. ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ – the slogan designed to boost morale during World War Two – has been popping up on t-shirts, posters and tea sets everywhere.

But street parties also celebrate a deeper tradition: community spirit. When many people remember the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, they become nostalgic for a time of neighbourliness, when front doors were always open and people kept an eye out for each other.

Back in 1953, it was common for people to know their neighbours well. With no computers or televisions to entertain them, children played outside with others on their street. Parents often worked nearby, or spent more time at home: today, they are more likely to commute, and spend longer hours in the office.

Compared to sixty years ago, today’s generations have more choice about how to spend leisure time, and more opportunities to move away from the streets and towns they grew up in. The result? A more individualistic society, where personal achievement matters more than community – and where many people can go through life without speaking to their neighbours at all.

Love thy neighbour?

Some are horrified at this divide. Those that live in tight communities, they say, develop a sense of belonging, a crucial support network, and important friendships with people that may seem very different to them. More people need to make an effort to get to know the neighbours.

Others argue that less neighbourliness is a good thing: it means people’s horizons have expanded beyond their street or village. With so many opportunities to experience new things and meet people with similar interests, why spend valuable time with those that just happen to live next door?

You Decide

  1. Why might it be important to get to know people in your community?
  2. What does the word ‘community’ mean to you?

Activities

  1. Create a plan for your own street party.
  2. Over the last century, architects and planners have designed buildings and towns that try and encourage neighbours to get to know each other. Create your own plan for an estate that fosters neighbourliness.

Some People Say...

“I’d never make friends with my neighbours.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m inspired. How do I arrange my own street party?
Unfortunately, it’s now too late to request a road closure – but all is not lost. Anyone can organise a party with friends or neighbours in a garden or park. Those looking for inspiration should check out the Big Jubilee Lunch – a nationwide series of picnics and parties that will take place this Sunday.
What has replaced neighbourliness? I don’t feel like I’m cut off from people around me!
Although fewer people know their neighbours than they did sixty years ago, communities of different kinds have emerged. The internet, for example, means that people with unusual interests can connect with each other. Sometimes, like-minded people who meet online form communities – places to discuss ideas, make friends and offer support.

Word Watch

Thames Pageant
This Sunday, a fleet of over one thousand boats will sail down the Thames to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The flotilla will include kayaks, military boats and barges, as well as vessels carrying bands and performers. It will set sail at 2pm, upriver of Battersea Bridge, and finish at Tower Bridge at 6pm.
Festival of Britain
The Festival of Britain was a national celebration of arts, architecture, technology and science, which took place across the UK in 1951. At a time of economic hardship after WWII, its organisers set out to boost national morale and promote British industry. The centrepiece of the Festival was London’s South Bank, where buildings like the Royal Festival Hall are still important cultural centres.
Bunting
The fabric decorations used to add colour to fêtes and festivals are called bunting. The floral and Union Jack flags favoured by street party organisers are now synonymous with British summertime celebrations – and particularly patriotic royal events.

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