In times past, every street had at least one good neighbour who could be relied on to give a newcomer a cup of sugar and bottle of milk by way of welcome. In Balsall Heath, the good neighbour has been reinvented as a Street Steward who acts a bit like a trade union shop steward, who campaigns for better working conditions on the factory shop floor. The Street Steward helps to organise and support fellow residents to gain better living conditions in the street and home where they live.
There is an employed member of staff who finds, supports and resources 70 voluntary street stewards. And, wherever she looks, there is always another modern day good neighbour who is keen to make a difference to the lives of their fellow residents in their avenue or street.
Not every resident wants to travel from one end of Balsall Heath to the other and back to attend meetings of the whole neighbourhood. So, the street stewards each help to organise a Residents Group in their neck of the woods or go a on walk-about in their few streets to identity problems for the Wardens and others to solve.
There are 22 residents groups, and 70 Street Stewards. So the whole neighbourhood is covered. Everyone knows someone and the sense of mutual self-help is fostered.
A good example of what the street stewards do is at Christmas. As well as erecting festive lights on key lampposts on key roads of the neighbourhood, the primary aged school children collect tins of food, biscuits and fruit which the wardens make up into 250 food hampers for elderly folk and those who live alone. Then they are delivered by the Stewards up to and even on Christmas day. It’s not so much the gift of the food which counts, as the fact that someone cares. It’s the thought which counts!
The Street Stewards and resident group leaders hold regular Walk-abouts with key statutory colleagues. They identify problems such as overhanging hedges, dumped cars, street lights which don’t work, and agree on the spot who will solve them. They are a great practical success. They persuade residents generally to bother more and to care for each other. Good role models are singled out, given a Balsall Heath Honour and asked to set an example for others.