My partner Michelle and I moved in to Finniss Street about 15 months ago. It ended a period where both of us were moving around, and while not exactly ‘settling down’, I could see we would be around long enough to get involved in the ‘hood.
I had already spent some time learning how different communities work. One of the lessons I picked up was the importance of long-term neighbourhood championing.
The common factor I saw time and time again, that made the difference between a connected, welcoming neighbourhood, and one of strangers, was a local (or a few locals), with years of history and a long-term commitment to building relationships in their neighbourhood – whether directly, or through events…. most of the time both.
This left me in a pickle. I was keen to do the work, but I was not going to be around for long enough to play this role. Michelle I are nowhere near that settled, with too many other things going on. And a couple of years of events and gatherings just wasn’t going to cut it…
What this means is that before I leave, I need to inspire others in my street to take up the role. And there is no time to lose!
So about a year ago now, with Neighbour Day (2014) approaching, I thought… you know, we need to approach this from another angle. Yes, I will put up my hand to host a Neighbour Day event, bring together some neighbours and see what happens. But the FIRST thing I will do… is invite my neighbours to help!
So the very first thing I did was flyer and doorknock my street saying… hey, we should do something for Neighbour Day… do you want to help?
Out of a hundred flyers, how many people do you think put up their hand to say they could chip in?
Go on, guess!
What do you reckon?
FIFTEEN people responded!
I was amazed! You have probably heard the same stories that I have… oh, nobody has any time… nobody values community… oh, nobody will ever help… it is impossible to find good people… well I can tell you now, it’s not true! We just need to ask!
Now as you can probably guess, there was no need at all for 15 people to organise a simple picnic – but I did get contact details for 15 allies who could chip in (with chairs and barbeques and balloons and umbrellas and telling the neighbours they knew), 15 allies who more-or-less guaranteed they would turn up on the day (by far the most important part!), and 15 allies who I know care about our neighbourhood just like I do – perhaps more so!
Neighbour Day was a lovely afternoon… a little too warm, with a little too much wine, and way too much food – just what you would expect with 15 cooks, and just what the neighbourhood ordered!
My favourite part was the people who said “you know, I have been here for decades, I have always thought of doing something like this… I don’t know why I never have… and I had no idea – there are so many people here I have never even met before!”
So from that 15 I am sure will be a handful who when I leave will say, you know what, this community thing, it ain’t so bad, it ain’t so hard, and you know what, we should do something about it.
But I haven’t left Finniss Street just yet, and I still have a few stories to tell before I do. ; )
Neighbour Day (neighbourday.org) is the last Sunday in March, every year, and is a great entry point — the perfect excuse to connect with the people around you. Neighbour Day 2015 is Sunday 29 March… it’s coming up soon and now is the perfect time to jump on board.