We all need a place to call home, and that sense of belonging should include the neighbourhood around us. There’s plenty you can do to connect with others and find your place in the community – starting with a little neighbourliness.
By Sarah Heeringa
Shyness, cultural differences and a desire for privacy can prevent us from forging links with those we live alongside, but a little effort to be neighbourly can have surprising benefits. It’s a bonus if you become friends, but at least you’ll know who’s living over the fence. It’s better for you, too – according to social neuroscientist Professor John Cacioppo, who co-wrote the 2008 book Loneliness, a sense of isolation disrupts our thinking, willpower and immune system, and can be as damaging as obesity or smoking.
Throw a party
We’d been flatting on the same street for a couple of years, a cul-de-sac leading to Takapuna Beach, in Auckland. While we’d say hi to our neighbours, mostly well-off families or elderly people, we never knew who really lived behind all those high walls. So my flatmates and I invited our neighbours to a potluck barbeque. There was a huge turnout – who knew so many personalities lived on our street! Some old-timers said people down the road used to have street barbeque, but they’d moved on and no-one else started them up again. I realised sometimes neighbours do want to hang out but they need an initiator. It was just a shame we took so long to step into that role.
Gather spare fruit
Initiatives such as Community Fruit Havesting, currently in 14 communities around New Zealand, facilitate the sharing of fruit from backyards, orchards and public spaces. Community Fruit Harvesting members register their trees via Facebook, volunteering to pick or receive fruit for their own charity organisation.
The fruit is shared with the owner of the fruit tree and the remainder distributed to charities and foodbanks; or the fruit is made into jams and chutneys which are then donated or sold for fundraising. There are many similar initiatives around the world, donating to charity and preventing fresh fruit from going to waste. See www.facebook.com/pickfruit for more.
When the children of Good contributing editor Sarah Heeringa began riding their bikes around the block to primary school, she and her husband dropped a flyer in letterboxes along the way with a picture of their kids, details of their cycle route and a friendly request: ‘Please look out for our kids!’
“If you can trust the people in your neighbourhood to do the right thing, it makes it easier to give your kids the kind of freedom to roam that we enjoyed as children,” says Sarah. “A month or so later when my daughter fell off her bike and landed weeping in the gutter, one friendly local stopped to help her right her bike, while another lady fetched plasters and a glass of water. It was old-fashioned neighbourliness at its best.”
Is your front door welcoming?
Yes, this means doing something about those resident cobwebs, old sneakers and that crusty doormat. Giving your door a fresh coat of paint and a new mat can work wonders. Pick a funky colour that sets you apart from your neighbours, and a day when it’s okay to leave the door open a few hours while the paint dries! See www.good.net.nz/first-impressions for more.
Hold a joint garage sale
Join forces with your neighbours, and your sale will have greater pulling power – plus there’ll be plenty of time to chat.
Keep an eye out
If you’re concerned about violence or crime in your area, consider joining your local Neighbourhood Watch or Neighbourhood Support Group, or volunteering for Community Patrol (www.communitypatrols.org.nz). Find out more at safecommunities.org.nz and www.ns.org.nz