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Urban magic on your doorstep: searching for Nottingham Street Wisdom.

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It’s a Friday lunchtime in the office and the weekend beckons, despite the temperatures not shifting much beyond minus 73 degrees C.

An email pings through the letter box and your first impulse is to press the delete button as fast as you can to prevent you from being drawn into another circular route of endless hyperlinks, cross references and doubling back on yourself.

But this time you don’t delete it but read it. Why? I don’t know that may not be the right question right now. It’s about a venture called Street Wisdom who describe themselves as a “new, non-profit venture that offers an enjoyable, powerful and free way of using the streets to learn something new. “ That sounds intriguing.

“There is no charge” the email continues. Even better methinks.

“At Street Wisdom you don’t pay fees, you pay attention.” OK. I think I can just about manage that on a Friday afternoon.

“All you need is to turn up with a question you’d like some fresh answers to. It could be a business-related question, a personal one. Or both.” OK… now hang on, there are enough questions racing around my head at the moment to fill a race track, I wouldn’t know which one to back to getting the fastest answer.

“Come by yourself, tell your friends to sign up or even enrol your whole team – this is a great way for business colleagues to hit the refresh button.” Well, being one who always like to hit the refresh button (most frequently in the Cross Keys in the Lace Market, it has to be said) I decide to take the plunge and join the venture and their promise of Street Wisdom on the steps at the front of Nottingham’s town hall in the Old Market Square.

Pretty soon afterwards, we’ve met one of their Street Leaders who registers me up for the process and we join a group of four other intrepid searchers for the street wisdom.

They’re as good as their word: all you need to bring with you is a question that you’d like some fresh answers to. You can keep it secret if you want, but it’s good to have something in mind. Nothing as big as ‘when am I going to win the Lottery?’ or as small as ‘left or right lion?’ – but something that matters to you, right here, right now.

So what happens next? That’s not a bad question. Our Street Leaders got us started by helping us ‘tune into’ the street over four shorts walks: each walk we could make alone or with friends, and each walk had an instruction to guide you:

“Look for what you’re drawn to.”
“Slow right down.”
“Notice the patterns.”
“See the beauty in everything.”

Now, in the cold light of day after the venture, this might seem a particularly uninspiring set of tasks to undertake: but in the increasingly warm light of the Nottingham afternoon, the walks and the focus given by the instructions generated for all of us on the walks a quite astounding set of responses.

I found myself being drawn to the fountains on the other side of the square, feeling quite wistful about the lack of water features in the city and the distance we were from the coastline.

The instruction to Slow Right Down had me stopped dead still in my tracks for over fifteen minutes which enabled me to see how fast everyone rushes around the city: always with intent and a job to do or a place to go or a person to visit. Staying much longer under this instruction would have seen me draining away through the concrete, I was relaxing that rapidly.

It was on the third walk – Notice the Patterns – that I really started to feel the effects of the process. Normally I brush off patterns or pay no attention to them at all: but given 10 minutes just to look at them made me hugely aware of just how patterned and order our city scape is: it was intoxicating to see patterns in every nook and cranny and in every small piece of iron railing, shop window and bus stop. Had this been after a Friday evening at the Cross Keys, one might have explained this with 15 pints of IPA: but no, this was Friday lunchtime and I was still technically at work.

The fourth walk – See the Beauty in Everything – was the peak of the afternoon. It meant that it was impossible to go anywhere with stopping to marvel at everything. I found myself all of modern technology when I overheard a couple of tourists extol loudly the wonder that was Skype, which had allowed them to talk to a long lost aunt in Australia that very morning.

After the four short walks, you’re encouraged to go off on a journey by yourself: your own street quest. You do this with your own question at the back of your mind and later on meet up with the rest of the group to share your experiences and improved wisdom. I can’t tell you whether the question I had posed was answered other than to say that your first question may not be the right question; but I can tell you that all six of us were swept away by the experience and promised to go divining for more Nottingham in the weeks to come.

“It’s urban magic on your doorstep” says the email and for once in your life, the reality lives up to the promise.

More about Street Wisdom here.