Saturday, 15 August 2009

Dalston Mill - A Local Event for Local People

The Joys of a British Summer

Computers are wonderful things. They let us discover global events and trends at the touch of a button. They allow us to communicate with each other in faster and more efficient ways. Best of all, they let strange and esoteric people publish pages and pages of photos and text on the oddest topics. There's no doubt that the digital revolution is becoming the greatest social change that we will experience in our lifetimes.

Of course, as with all good things, there's a darker side. Our ability to connect so easily with each other through a computer screen can be isolating. It becomes more convenient to text or email than actually meet or use the telephone. Facebook can provide you with thousands of 'friends' that you will never speak to or sit down with, and instead of specifically letting your friends know where you are, or how you are feeling, you can use 'twitter' to broadcast it to the entire world. Virtual reality might be filled with mails and friends and tweets and twitters, but on a human level it can be a very lonely place. 

Equally, the vast amount of instant information available to us can have a negative effect. When millions of people around the world can access every piece of news from any corner of the planet simultaneously, what happens? Celebrity becomes all the more powerful. Commerce has no regional barriers. Our highly globalised world becomes even more homogeneous. 

However, as a certain Mr Einstein once said 'Every action must have a equal and opposite reaction". This huge shift in society is provoking a new trend - in an enormous response to the power of the internet, people are becoming more and more interested in the simple pleasures of local community life.

Two recent events on the streets of Dalston have illustrated this perfectly. Firstly, our street took part in the national 'Big Lunch' event, which encouraged neighborhoods throughout the country to throw street parties and get to know one another.

British people (and Londoners in particular), do not generally socialise with their neighbours. Neighbours are the people that you nod stiffly to in the street and never make eye contact with. It's a national tradition. So for streets throughout the country to be filled with neighbours actually chatting with each other, and sharing food and drink - well, it was somewhat revolutionary. Perhaps a little awkward at first (because, lets face it, these are people who we have been politely ignoring for many years), but altogether a heart warming and pleasant experience.


Hot on the heels of this celebration, and just down the road, was the installation of the Dalston Mill. the Mill was a temporary art project, that took over a disused railway line and turned it into a hub for local events. A small corn field was installed (providing a very interesting contrast with the urban surroundings), a working mill was built and a bakery allowed the bread to be baked on site. It was all very English, and quirky and 'Hackney' in spirit.


Local businesses took part in a scheme to allow the bread to be used as currency, and workshops and performances were held promoting local talent. When we visited, the whole place was buzzing with people joyously learning how to decorate cakes.



Not only was this a celebration of Dalston's native culture, it looked good too. EXYZT, the experimental architectural collective who had created the site, did a great job of integrating both rustic and industrial elements into the scheme.


The internet may put the world at our doorsteps, but, paradoxically it's also allowing us to rediscover what is just beyond our front doors. With events celebrating local life, it's great to discover the delights of keeping things close to home .

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