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On a fairly typical street in Staffordshire something quite remarkable is blossoming thanks to the Richardson family.

Smarts Avenue, in Shenstone, is home to husband and wife Mark, 46, and Heidi, 42, and their three children Tia, 17, Ethan, 14, and seven-year-old Elise. They met in their hometown of Portsmouth before moving into their Bromford home five years ago.

Shortly before the move, complications during the birth of her third child meant several nerves were severed in Heidi’s legs leaving her with a permanent disability. To compound their misfortune, Mark then collapsed three years ago after suffering a brain haemorrhage and now has a brain cavernoma which is regularly monitored by specialists. His short-term memory has been reduced to just five per cent, meaning he can also not go out to work.

But far from being deterred by these major setbacks, Heidi and Mark have used the skills they do have to gradually transform their street into a thriving community.

“When we moved here we didn’t know anyone or anything and we had to network,” Heidi says. “A lot of it started with a simple ‘hello’ which can actually be very powerful.”

Mark continued: “I think it helps being in a rural setting. I’m from the city and I know that lifestyle can sometimes be a bit more dog eat dog whereas Heidi is from the country and was far more accustomed to breaking down these barriers.”

Heidi added: “Yes and one thing we are able to do is take in other people’s parcels if they’re not in and making sure everyone’s bins are out on the correct day because when you’re working it can be so easy to forget and then you end up waiting a month just to get it emptied. It’s simple and it might not seem a lot but these little things taken together build a community spirit.”

And it hasn’t stopped there – oh no…

“When people saw Heidi with her problems and then me with mine, people would always offer to help. The lady at number 13 often got our groceries and one evening a neighbour even turned up on our doorstep with a big chilli,” Mark explains.

“These little acts of kindness have blossomed and now it has spread to different parts of the street. For example, the single gentleman across the road works full-time and doesn’t always have time to eat properly so we often cook him soups and other meals. In return, Ethan needed help with his maths so he’ll tutor him every week for an hour.

“We will often walk another neighbours’ dog and he will occasionally bring down logs for us for the fire. A lawnmower would be quite a big expense for us and we don’t own one so instead we borrow Clive’s, who hasn’t got much mobility these days, and we’re able to cut our grass – but we also do his too.”


The community has continued to grow organically and now a popular summer ritual involves different families taking it in turns to host a barbeque using a kitty which everyone contributes to.

“During the warmer months you’ll regularly see children dragging extra chairs and tables along the street to whichever home is hosting the get together. Although it can cause problems when one of your neighbours goes away on holiday and your chairs and tables are stranded at their house,” Heidi jokes.

“I also volunteer at the community Rainbows group and it’s great fun – you could be having the worst day but then seeing the kids really lifts your mood. And I know from the volunteer work I also do at a local mental health charity that a lot of problems do stem from loneliness. Ultimately it’s about swapping skills and making that effort to notice what happens in other people’s lives. My nan always used to say to me that you are not remembered for what you have, but rather what you do.”

Ethan recently purchased a drum kit which, as every mum of a teenage son knows, could have potentially caused issues with the next door neighbour.

“I went round to see Norma, was very honest with her, and she told me that she often went for an afternoon nap between 3pm and 5pm which we didn’t know before. Now we give Ethan opportunities to play his drums without disrupting Norma and it works really well. And of course our interaction with Norma doesn’t stop there – we’ll always give her door a knock if her washing is still on the line when it starts raining.”

Mark adds: “Being a good neighbour is not about jumping into an overly committed friendship straight away, it’s about respecting people’s space and looking at ways you can offer those little acts of kindness. There’s a difference between ‘friendly’ and ‘friends’ and you don’t have to know every neighbour but it costs nothing to be nice – we don’t see ourselves as doing anything special. It’s just something we do naturally.”

Bromford neighbourhood coach, Vicky Sonderlo said: “We do have a good sense of community in many of our Staffordshire villages but I definitely want to foster what Heidi, Mark and their neighbours have on this street and use it to inspire similar change elsewhere.

“They are both an inspiration and are clearly passing their philosophy onto their children which is fantastic to see. What we’re trying to do at Bromford is identify the Heidi on every street so that all of our communities tap into the brilliant array of talents and skills that different people have to offer.”

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