How many people do you meet, say hello to, or have a conversation with, during an average day? Where do you meet or see them? Do you take part in any activities together?
These places, wherever they may be, are more important than we often imagine. They are the bumping spaces, the places where people come together to meet, share ideas or local knowledge, relate to one another, get comfort, feel connected and have the potential to co-create a vibrant world.
It’s where the magic happens.
Increasingly, these bumping spaces have become less visible. In the UK, they have moved indoors and unless you look for them, you won’t find them. Many now seem to be largely interest based and require a fee to access them. Or they seem to cater for a particular group of people with a particular ‘need’ e.g. those with intellectual disabilities or mental health challenges.
This feels particularly true to me at the moment as I am spending a week in the lovely town of Coin, in southern Spain. The main town, which you can walk around in about 30 minutes, boasts 4 open squares. Each square has shaded areas, water fountains and plenty of seating. They are inviting spaces that seem to be there without purpose or agenda. I fell in love with one in particular (pictured here) just outside of the Mayor’s offices which had a bandstand, communal gym and what looked to be the makings of a communal library. We made the mistake of visiting during peak siesta time which explains the distinct lack of people. But I tell you, come 6pm it was buzzing with life. And on a Tuesday.
Now, I don’t want to do the UK a disservice. There has been something of a revival, albeit a small one, of opening up and using public spaces across towns and cities. I think about my hometown, Kingston-upon-Thames. It has some really gorgeous spaces that are well-used particularly during the summer. But I can’t help notice they are often crammed with market stalls trying to sell me things. There are few places to sit. You’re invited to come in, buy what you need, and leave.
As I’ve been travelling around Nurture Development’s Learning and Working Sites, I have been on the lookout for the ‘bumping spaces’ in the different communities and have been introduced to some fantastic examples. From the South Ockendon Community Hub in Thurrock which finds a way to make anything possible, to the Yes @ The Edge Charity Shop that offers free hugs to anyone that wants one and the vibrant Millie and Me café that has cured loneliness for so many people over delicious cake, in Brixham. There are plenty of examples. And the fact that they’re indoors, takes nothing away from them. But for today, I’m interested in the outdoors.
There’s something fluid and natural in the open spaces here in Coin that I haven’t seen in the UK since I was a small child and my granny and her neighbours used to sit outside their houses chatting, sharing the latest news (aka gossip…) and exchanging favours. This is still an everyday occurrence here. As people began to emerge from their siestas yesterday, I watched as the benches filled up with the older people of the community. Each one with their particular spot that had been cemented after hours of manoeuvring. I watched as energised young people began running around the square, drinking from the fountain and chatting to the older folks nestled on their benches. I watched as tourists, sitting down for a breather with their great big ice creams, were invited into conversations with the locals and exchanged a few laughs despite, or as a result of, the obvious lack of a shared language!
I suppose I am drawn to these kinds of bumping spaces because they’re easy to spot, anyone can stumble across them and I can just be me. And in these spaces, anything is possible.
I am far from the seasoned traveller and so it is very likely that I simply haven’t come across these types of bumping spaces in the UK. Are there any near you? Where are they? What do they feel like? What goes on there? We’d love to hear from you.