24 September 2017

A Big Lunch neighbourhood event led Mark Hockney, Surrey, to discover that ‘play’ is as varied as people. He recently organised a surprise ‘thank you’ for his talented young neighbour, Michael, who led him to this realisation.

Photo of a vacuum cleaner

I recently moved into a new house in a private street in Surrey. There’s a quite a good community feel, and once a year all the residents get together on the green (or ‘island’ as we call it) in the middle of the estate.  Everyone brings a dish to share and it’s a really nice way for all the neighbours to chat and spend time together.

At our most recent street party, my son made friends with another little boy whose older brother, Michael, has autism. A couple of days later, Michael and his brother were playing football in the garden with my children. This fact alone was great: our street get-together connected local kids.  My wife was vacuuming inside the house, when Michael appeared to tell us that our Dyson vacuum cleaner didn’t sound healthy. He asked if he could fix it, and we agreed – what else could we say?! - but within 20 minutes it was like a brand new machine.  In a flash Michael had taken the whole thing apart, cleaned the filters, emptied the dust, and put it back together again.

I soon came to realise that Michael has quite an obsession with vacuum cleaners, with a particular interest in the Dyson brand. He knows a great deal about them; he has a garage full of vacuum cleaners, old and new. This is his ‘playroom,’ where he enjoys taking the machines apart and fixing them – playing with them, really.   Michael’s passion was inspiring. I asked him if he had ever been to a place where vacuum cleaners were made. He hadn’t.

This prompted me into action:  I realised that a visit to a Dyson factory would be, for Michael, the equivalent of a trip to Disneyland, or meeting a favourite football team.

I stuck a simple post up on LinkedIn, sharing the interest and talent my neighbour Michael has in relation to vacuum cleaners. Within a week we had 20,000 views, hundreds of comments, and my inbox was wild with people trying to help!  Dyson made contact with me, and we set up a very special day for Michael at the Flagship Dyson Oxford Street store – a special store in itself. The day included the opportunity to take apart and rebuild one of their machines, and I’m not surprised to share that the Dyson experts were amazed at his speed and ability!

Our community events, and particularly our Big Lunches, are always great fun – full of food and friends (old and new). The fact that my son was able to make connections at our latest Big Lunch was heartening and has given him many an opportunity to play with new people over the summer holidays. But what I didn’t expect to come out of the event was being taught about how different people play and learn, by a seven-year-old kid with Autism, who would go on to fix my hoover!

A strong community is made up of a diversity of people with different skills and interests. When we talk, we connect – through kids playing together in my case. And who knows where it will lead? I’m hoping that a new-and-improved vacuum cleaner and a trip to Dyson Disneyland is only the beginning for me, Michael, and the rest of our neighbours.