When I came for my interview for the post of Programme Manager at South Kilburn Trust I was asked by Ros, our Chair, "Buckinghamshire is very leafy. How do you think you will get on working somewhere this urban?". For a moment I was slightly puzzled; I'd been running community based projects for about ten years and I firmly believed (still do) that people are people regardless of how many trees they look out at every morning. We all have our own problems, thoughts and life experiences, but essentially human beings experience the same basic emotions and struggles wherever they're from. There was also the fact that while Buckinghamshire is seen as very affluent, there are still big pockets of social and economic disadvantage and a growing number of reports of children going to school with knives and getting involved in gangs. It may be pretty and able to boast the rolling greenery of the Chiltern Hills, but it's far from being straight out of an Enid Blyton book these days. I didn't really see that there would be much difference in how I approached the job or how it affected me personally.
One year on, I can say that my initial response to that question was both right and wrong. The biggest difference is the sheer pace of life- from the minute you arrive at Marlyebone station everything steps up a gear. I started off being terribly polite but am now just as inpatient and short tempered as all the other commuters, because if I wasn't, I'd probably still be in a queue now. Every day I get cross about someone doing at least one of the following:
• blocking the doors on the tube
• not having their cards ready at the ticket machines then fumbling around and putting them in upside down
• walking down the left hand side of the stairs instead of up
• standing on the walking side of the escalator
Basically I am about a million times less tolerant than I was a year ago.
I've also had more colds and bugs since working in London than I'd ever had before in my whole life. Within the first six months of my job I'd had two chest infections, no doubt caused by all the germs on the tube. I was getting to the point where I was seriously considering wearing a Michael Jackson style mask and covering myself in anti bacterial hand gel from head to foot, but I think it's finally reached the point where my body has got used to it. It has now been at least a month since I had a major sneezing fit, and I can now run for the train without thinking my lungs are going to collapse, so that has to be good.
In terms of people being people, I still stand by that. I've worked with families and communities for years, and I see the same issues. Parents love their children and worry about them. Lack of funding has meant youth centres have shut down and children and young people are hanging around with nothing to do, leading to anti social behaviour, drink and drug abuse and "getting in with the wrong crowd". Unemployment is a growing problem. Shops on the high street are shutting to make way for money shops and pawn brokers, small businesses are struggling, communities are more fragmented.. HS2 is causing controversy in both places; here because of a proposed ventilation shaft that will run under people's houses, and in Buckinghamshire because it will involve digging up the fields, disrupting the environment and forcing some people out of their homes.
That said, what we country bumpkins definitely have an advantage with (for now) is the peace and quiet. I live in a market town and although it's busy, it's still pretty green. The air is fresh and it's always possible to find somewhere nearby that's perfectly still and quiet. South Kilburn is going through a massive change and I often wonder how people cope with the noise, dust and disruption that comes with all the building work. I am only here 8 hours a day and sometimes can't hear myself think, but there's no escape for people who are experiencing it 24/7. It is probably the resilience of the local people that I admire the most. People who live here just get on with it, because they have to.
In short, people are pretty similar wherever we live, but our different challenges can be related to our environment- and some of us are lucky enough to be able to share our problems with a few sheep and cows.