Flash Says…

Power cuts – bringing the community together

Posted on: 2011-04-18

My part of Leytonstone has been subject to power cuts recently. The first happened at dusk, as people were drawing curtains and putting on room lights. Suddenly, we were opening the curtains again.

People go out into the street to see if any other houses are affected. There I saw neighbours wandering around, and others staring out of the window, mouthing “You not got power? Me too!”

Friends ring to find out the latest – one encouraged others to report the fault to UK Power Networks as they were saying it was “just him”! Their helpline told me I could sign up to text updates, or ask them to call me back with information, which was good – I soon learned that the fault was at the substation in our street.

Neighbours check on each other – have you got enough candles? I had, but no matches so I visited my local corner shop, who were hurriedly closing in the dark – they made time to pass me a box for free. Community spirit was showing itself.

I was reminded of the last power cut I experienced, when living in a dingy flat on Whipps Cross Road – the evening was spent under candlelight at the Alfred Hitchcock pub, where bills and change was calculated on paper, where we relied on bottles from the fridge. It seemed that everyone had made a beeline for the pub so it was busy but had a strange air of excitement. I ran into people who I’d previously only known to say a passing hello – now we could begin to chat and had something in common. Here, too, a power cut had brought people together.

Back in my street this week, again I spoke to people who would normally only offer a brief nod in greeting – the youth from down the road, lads from round the corner – and now they were genially chatting about how to cook dinner without a microwave!

Of course technology plays a part in daily life now, and neighbours were exchanging notes about the outage on Facebook, connecting from mobile phones, while remembering not to run the battery down until they could recharge!

The power was out for nearly three hours and in that time I had several friendly chats with neighbours and got to know a few more a little better. But there was one other person I remembered to speak to – just after the lights came back on, I wandered over to see the engineer. He told us that a switch had come open, probably due to old age, but he had closed it again. I remembered to say thank you – to the forgotten man who inadvertently got people talking.

This post will also appear on Waltham Forest Guardian‘s blog section, where I am a writer.


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Flash Says – a regular blog by Flash Bristow

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