I have recently been reading about 15 minute neighbourhoods. A 15 minute neighbourhood is defined as: ‘…a place where you can easily access all of your day-to-day needs—like food, education and outdoor space—within a 15-minute walk from your home.’
I am lucky. I don’t always have great things to say about Denton, but there is one good thing about it. It does function as a 15-minute neighbourhood on a basic level. It is still a working town with all the facilities you would need if you were unable to leave it. Bus stops, the post office, independent high street businesses, supermarkets, doctors, dentists, parks, pubs and the library are all within 15 minutes of home. It even still has a few banks with ATMs. It is a great captive audience for many start up businesses.
Like many people I also work from home, but I have been living within this 15 minute bubble for the last 3 and a half years – since I stopped working in Manchester. I know it does work on a practical level, but I also know the pitfalls and the restrictions it can inflict.
It isn’t perfect for people like me. I am not a local. Although I know my immediate neighbours to say hello to, I don’t have a community of friends here, and that’s largely because I’ve moved so many times in my life and have never put down roots. I am also relatively new to the North West. Neighbours are constantly moving (I am now the longest standing tenant in my block), though I know a few people by sight. But there aren’t any established community venues or hubs in Denton in which to meet people and so whilst a 15-minute neighbourhood supplies me with the things I need to survive, in many ways it has the potential to be quite damaging.
My main points of human contact these days are the post office and the supermarket. The supermarket and the library are largely automated these days because of the pandemic, so there isn’t always an opportunity to speak to someone. The pubs here aren’t terribly salubrious and are quite cliquey. There is no events venue, no clubs, work hub, cinema, affordable gym in the town unless you go to church, which I don’t.
With more people working from home, will this start to change across the country? Will the pandemic put useful shops back onto largely abandoned high streets? Or is it still a threat to the regeneration of community hubs as people try to avoid too many indoor crowd activities? Will work from home staff start looking for places outside within their communities for a change of scenery?
Manchester itself has some great co-working spaces, but you won’t find any drop in style hot desk centres or pay per minute internet cafés in Tameside and right now that would be a great option for people like me who would like somewhere to be able to take their laptop a couple of afternoons a week to stave off cabin fever.