Blog: Scottee

The artist and writer on Would Like To Meet, his Compass Festival commission to get people in Leeds streets talking to each other

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Two years ago I left the council estate I grew up on and moved into a house with stairs! I’d always lived amongst those who had watched me grow up, fight, fall out and become streetwise.

When I was made homeless at 19 years old I was given a council bedsit down the road from the estate where I spent my formative years. It was just as densely populated and as a result I knew a lot of people and they knew me – the woman on the fourth floor liked my shoes and ran early in the morning, the Irish elders on the sixth floor who I’d hold the lift for and we’d talk about the damp. The bloke on the ground floor was a smoker. When we bumped into each other we’d talk about the local theatre. The guys next door were subject of much speculation because they kept mattresses against their windows but they always said hello and held the lift.

 They look confused if I come too close. Living on a road is different to living on an estate

Two years ago I handed the keys to my council flat back to the local authority and moved into a house by the Essex coast. Suddenly I was thrown from living amongst familiar faces and onto a road with houses, fences, garden walls and the fight for car parking space.

I smiled at people. They looked suspiciously back. No one has ever really said hello – you just become familiar. Now, if I see my neighbours at the station or in the town they don’t know what to do. They look confused if I come too close. Living on a road is different to living on an estate.

With this in mind I’m audaciously trying to take on the fear of getting to know those who live in close proximity to us. I’ve launched a social experiment with Compass Festival in Leeds called Would Like To Meet, or #WLTMLeeds for short.

I’m asking folk who live on streets and roads across the city to nominate their street as a place where they’d like to get to know their neighbours. I’m going to work with this street to try and find ways they might break social convention and go beyond a polite wave or half a smile.

I plan to do this by working with each house on that street to create a list of the types of people that house are willing to meet. These I’ll turn into estate agent-style for-sale signs that will sit outside their house. And then the real work begins in trying to get folk with shared passions to cross the threshold and say: “Hiya.”

Who knows if it’ll work? Perhaps we prefer living insular lives now and ignoring those around us, but perhaps we’d also like to be able to pop next door and ask Jean at number four to water the plants whilst we’re away on holiday.

If you live in Leeds and would like to nominate your street to work with Scottee send your postcode and reason by 9 August to Compass Festival is on 16-24 November. Read Scottee in defence of fat

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