In my childhood I lived in a wonderful road where everyone knew each other. Children used to gather after school to hang out, build camps, run races and generally have fun. The older kids looked after the younger ones and so long as we we didn’t leave the street and were back by tea time our parents weren’t the least bit concerned.
It wasn’t just the children I befriended. Across the road from me lived a fascinating lady who had been a missionary overseas. Even as a teenager I would look forward to my visits with her over cups of tea and slightly stale biscuits as she recounted her adventures from around the globe.
Next door the Finnegans always had a plaster for us if we grazed our knees, and Mr O’Leary at number nine let us climb in his trees and build tree houses. No one needed a CRB check to speak to us. We were neighbours, the next best thing to family, a community that did life together, that laughed, cried and grew together.
Nowadays being a neighbour, and part of a community, is much more challenging. People build higher and higher fences and walls around their homes, any adult befriending a child that is not their own is automatically looked on with suspicion, and you’d probably be hesitant to hand out plasters or serve cake in case of allergic reactions and court cases.
But all is not lost. It is still possible to be a good neighbour today and a community of strangers can become a community of friends. Here are some of the things I have seen happening in my street recently:
- Christmas cardsThere is no better way to find out who lives in your street than to send them Christmas cards. “To all at number 10, wishing you a very Merry Christmas from Olivia McCabe at number 28” lets them know you are there, thinking of them, and gives them the opportunity to send a card back introducing themselves to you in turn.
- Neighbourhood WatchIf there is a Neighbourhood Watch group in your road then think about joining it, if not then why not start one? You will get updates from your local police about what to watch out for in your area, and you will have the chance to get to know more of your neighbours. This is also a perfect opportunity for neighbours to keep an eye on each other’s houses whilst people are away on holiday.
- ParkingIf parking is limited in your area be as courteous as you can be about where you park. Our neighbours let us know when they are going to be away and offer their driveways as extra parking when people need it. People aren’t in the least bit territorial about their patch of tarmac and as a result it all feels very relaxed and friendly.
- Bins!Also know as garbage or trash cans. In England we have wheelie bins. In my part of Hertfordshire we are big on recycling and have four different colour bins. After a recent Christmas party where over sixty guests descended on our house (including a lot of our neighbours) we were left with a lot of recycling. One couple who had been away over Christmas and New Year and not used their bins offered us extra space. Now how’s that for good neighbours?
- The Sick and BereavedOne of the things I absolutely loved about my time living in the southern States of America is how communities rally together when people are sick or bereaved. You only have to sneeze and cartons of home-made chicken soup land on your doorstep. If you are bereaved then you don’t need to shop for food for months. A steady stream of people come to your door to offer their condolences and always bring mountains of food with them.
This is a habit I have brought with me back to England and it is slowly catching on. One neighbour recently had her appendix out and she was inundated with some delicious soups and breads on her return. When my other neighbour’s wife died suddenly the whole street set up a rota to cook for the bereaved husband for a month. He is now the first person to take food round to people who are struggling, usually in the form of his excellent chocolate pie.
- The LonelyWe all know that there is a huge difference between people living in solitude and people who are lonely. Young mums may be surrounded by a big family and still be lonely, where as an elderly woman living on her own may be perfectly content. That being said it’s always good to find out which of your neighbours are living alone and check up on them once in a while.
The key thing in all of this is relationship building. No two people are the same and you can’t have a one size fits all approach to building community with your neighbours. You just need to get creative in getting to know them as individuals. When you have done that you can invite them to barbecues in your back garden, call on them for a lift to the airport in the dead of night, and be there for them when they lose someone precious to them. After all, aren’t we designed to be part of something bigger than ourselves?
Are you a good neighbour? What have others done to be a good neighbour to you?
Have a good one,