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Near Neighbours
Community Cohesion
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Guest blog - Big Conversation in Wolverhampton

Guest Blog by Lazzaro Pietragnoli from Near Neighbours

Until today, Wolverhampton was for me only the name of an industrial city up in the Midlands, home in the past of some of the most famous bicycle industries, and of the "Wolves" football club. I passed by the city on a train on may way to Liverpool a few times, but never stopped there - for this reason I was very excited at the idea of visiting the city for the final Big Conversation of the Real People Honest Talk programme.

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I decided to walk from the station to the venue, the Church of St Matthews, to familiarise myself with the area: I saw many derelicted industrial and commercial spaces, that left me with the impression of a place that needs some big investments. At the same time, the streets were clean, the bus shelters in order (without any of the graffiti or fire marks that we are used to in London and other cities); "clearly residents love their neighbourhood and care for it", I thought to myself.
Both impressions were confirmed by the conversations I heard at the event: an area that lacks some infrastructures and opportunities, but where people have committment and resilience.

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I really enjoyed when members of the public in different tables were asked to imagine Wolverhampton in ten years, and to try do plan the actions to arrive there, making also some small individual pledges to achieve the desired outcome. At one table two elderly ladies spoke about the need for more green spaces and the opportunities that this would bring for people of all ages, committing to organise small walks as occasion to socialise for people feeling isolated. In another table the discussion led to a vision for a welcoming city, which refugees and migrants can feel accepted in and be integrated in: one person here pledged to visit the Place of Welcome that has been recently opened at the Ahmadiyya Mosque. Another table focused on the need to better coordinate social and community services and people committed to create a database of organisations and structures helping vulnerable people.

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It was really uplifting to see many people of different faiths and backgrounds coming together, not to complain about things that don't work, but to share ideas and project in order to work together to make things better.

The Big Conversation in Wolverhampton was a real success, and I am sure that all the participants will build on the legacy of the event, and their commitments and pledges will soon become concrete actions to transform the local area in a more inclusive and cohesive community, where everyone would be valued for the contribution they can make to the neighbourhood.