Life in London

SW18 Mum Belinda Aspinall blogs for us on her life in London as she sets up her own local community project and her new business, a website for those leaving London. 

Last time I wrote I sort of imagined I was standing down from Community Matters for various personal reasons but things have progressed, as life tends to, and on we roll!  It’s a delight and I am constantly proud to have been a part of it from the start.  The work from it carries along and we all do our bit; everyone fits it in between family and day jobs!

The other day we were interviewed for a local magazine ‘Village’ and we sat around the table talking about how it all started, how we got to know each other and all of a sudden here we are with almost 100 people involved and everyone is slowly but surely hearing about what we are about and things are popping up all over the place.  This week sees our first mother and baby gathering, set up by two of the street contacts. I am particularly chuffed about this as there is so much for toddlers but when you’ve got a new baby sometimes it’s nice to find a friendly face but toddler groups are a bit daunting with tiny babies; hopefully this group will grow and grow!

It seemed appropriate we appear in Village Magazine as it really does feel like we live in a village.  I know that’s a bit twee but seriously we have a village shop, village cafe, framers and vets and even the village school.  The good thing is my postman is not also the painter and the window cleaner doesn’t double as the vet so all in all it’s a joy!

Recently I took a new step in my ‘village’ life and joined a group of people at 7.30pm one cold night to do a bit of keep fit.  I try to stay fit but thought I needed a bit of a change so me and a pair of heavy kettle bells got to know each other the other night.  It hurt – (well what sort of fitness class would it be if it didn’t) but it was actually a real pleasure. It was cold and dark, we were outside, everyone was friendly and kind and as I fell into bed that night I felt refreshed and ready to face the day ahead.  I’m planning on going again and can strongly recommend kettle bells as a great motivation if you’re looking for something new.  The thing I especially enjoyed was the fact that it was all levels, men and women, fit and less fit and it didn’t matter – everyone was challenged in their way and it felt great to be a part of it!  Thanks to Jamie Lloyd for introducing me to Kettle Bells – I had hoped they’d be a bit like kettle chips but sadly not!  I secretly believe I should be awarded a prize for avoiding dropping one!

Meanwhile my own business is gathering pace.  It’s not linked to community matters and yet it has a very similar idea really – supporting one another!  We were recently quoted in the Telegraph on a Saturday in Homes and Property section – the Holy Grail for a website like mine!  The journalist said we were essential reading for anyone leaving the city and moving to the countryside.  People have been taking note and popping by in their hundreds ever since which is very encouraging.  It’s amazing to think both ideas have stemmed from simple ideas and are growing at a great rate. How lucky I am!

The next steps.....

Sometimes we all need to be led and we like to follow and suddenly it struck me that if I didn’t share out some of the admin for Community Matters it would forever sit in my inbox and never really become a community project.  

Everyone is so busy, our lives are stretched to capacity and finding time for extra jobs is really hard to do. I knew in reality my life was over stretched, and my family and my new business were suffering as a result of Community Matters.  They might seem like little jobs but lots of little jobs all add up. 

So, I braved it; I wrote to all the street contacts with a list of all the silly little admin jobs that need doing, like checking the playgroup information is up to date and updating the contacts list.  As I say nothing major but critical to ensuring our website is up to date and Community Matters keeps rolling. 

I was in awe as the offers of help rolled in.  I thought I’d need to do a hard sell and beg people to take it on but not a bit of it.  Within days every admin role was taken on and suddenly I realised this really is a community project and one in which everyone has a vested interest.

When you’ve started something it can be hard to let it go and when the email came out from someone else about the next meeting I felt a bit strange, that’s not to say I felt bad, just strange. 

It was a bizarre relief when she asked me if I’d lead it one more time!  At the next meeting we intend finding a new 6 month, or annual leader – someone who just keeps the project moving and makes sure it doesn’t get forgotten.  

My role in Community Matters will be done and I’m proud to have been a part of it....we live in a fantastic area and we are just adding the icing to the cake!  SW18 Community Matters is a project in which every single local person can feel rightly proud.

At the first meeting we had 54 people on a horrible wet night and I was totally blown away....let’s hope we get a decent turn out for the second meeting or I’ll be looking a bit silly talking to myself!  Keep your fingers crossed we haven’t clashed with the Great British Bake Off, or it’s the night of a one off hurricane in London.

Rain stops play but not for Community Matters

st anne's church

I had a little practice of a speech I had to give the other night and it started with ‘I quite understand why no one turned out...this weather is disgusting’. To be honest it was the only line of the speech with which I was happy and confident– the rest was an ad lib, fraught with emotion, the best intentions but hard to deliver!  As we saw people queuing to get into the Church for our meeting I realised my one decent line was totally inappropriate. As I asked for a bit of quiet we counted 54 people ...what a turn out...

Now that’s what I call Community.....

We all want to live in an area where we really do look out for one another – not paying lip service to ‘community’ but a genuine spirit of friendliness and kindness on a daily basis.  It’s easy to knock on the door of a new person, but easy it might be - it’s not always what we do because we’re so busy. Also I’m talking about knocking on the door of older people, of the people who you’ve never spoken to, the new mums, the single dads, everyone really.  Just making sure they are ok, that they aren’t lonely or struggling or wondering what to do on a wet day in London. 

This isn’t about an idea, it’s about everyone pulling together and being together.  The meeting was as a result of 6 of us gathering everyone together and we had no idea what to expect but it was amazing.  There was a really positive vibe on the night....perhaps the timing is good with the jubilee just behind us – everyone seems genuinely pleased to have a focus for our community.

Now the process of seeing it happen – in just a few days we’ve already heard about a coffee on one street, a knock on the door of a lonely neighbour on  another and the thing that really pleased us  was the story of a girl who was lonely at one of our playgroups. No one had ever said hello or been very friendly, and this week after the meeting she said it was totally different.  People were being welcoming and kind to everyone.  When I heard that I had tears in my eyes....I so remember the loneliness of being a new person when everyone seems to know what’s going on – and if our little group means people never feel like that, well that’s a great achievement!

Meanwhile back at my other life, – suffice to say it’s been extraordinary!  I’ve had the BBC and ITV on the phone this week wanting to talk to me about my new network for people moving out.  My life couldn’t really be a lot busier right now – a website for both lifeafterlondon and life in London, and three small children...but all of that said it couldn’t be better either! 

Life in London, Life after London


When I volunteered to write this blog I was busy launching, a website for people thinking of moving out of London.  I have so many friends who decide to make the leap and I know it’s a daunting time.  The website enables people to have a place to talk about the issues and crucially to ask questions from people who really know – the locals - a friend before you arrive!  In a short time we’ve built up quite a network, over 150 County Contacts across the UK waiting for questions from likely newbies so it’s all very exciting.

As anyone who sets up a business will know there is an awful lot to think about – I never knew I’d have to learn so much, so fast, and I don’t think I ever appreciated how responsible I’d feel once we went Live.  Suddenly real people are on my website asking questions and I can’t just have a day off and leave it’s a 7 day a week job that doesn’t stop just because I want a moment to have coffee with a friend!

Whilst juggling my own life something occurred locally giving me the chance to consider not just Life after London but to closely look at Life in London.  The very thing I was trying to set up for people moving away, (a contact point when you go) doesn’t exist here in my own streets.  I have been really lucky to be part of a small group who are setting up Community Matters.  It’s a simple idea – every street has a contact and we supply that person with a helpful list of playgroups, doctors, places to go, things to do for when someone new moves in or when someone has a baby It’s nothing clever just a simple idea that means someone on every street is available to answer questions for anyone new to the area.  Like lots of areas we’re all really friendly once you know where to begin and this is just a way of helping people to begin and remembering to look out for people around us.

It’s funny to find myself launching a business all about being out of London whilst I throw myself fully into Life in London but whichever way you look at it Community Does Matter and both my recent endeavours just enable us all to help each other out.

Twitter: Bee @lifeafterlondon

Bee @Lifeafterlondon

Belinda Aspinall, founder of Life After London

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