Neighbourly Blogs

The year we forgot to celebrate Neighbour Day in our street

By Belinda FitzGerald
24 March, 2018

Belinda FitzGerald is a great neighbour – and she lives in a great neighbourhood. This is her story about how Neighbour Day has helped transform her local community.

I started doing Neighbour Day in 2013 and in 2018 we forgot!

Why?  Why would we forget Neighbour Day after five years in our street? Because we now have such a strong bond with our neighbourhood that we don’t need to celebrate it on the last Sunday of March –  we do it all the time!

Six years ago I moved to a new neighbourhood.  It was a hard decision to leave the old one as we were in a great area with lots of lovely elderly neighbours but our unit sized block no-longer suited our active son and we needed more space, so off we set.

Our new neighbourhood was much more established in terms of houses and gardens but lacking in spirit.  Because the new street had seen lots of households come and go over the years, it didn’t have the same connection as the brand new subdivision we had come from (where everyone had built with the same builder around the same time).

When I stumbled upon Neighbour Day with the slogan ‘the community you want starts at your front door’ I realised that I didn’t need to find my ideal neighbourhood, I just needed to create it.

Now my son is in his last year of primary school and he spends as much time at the neighbours as he does at home!  Whilst I still only have one kid, I often feed three and if anyone is missing we simply yell over the fence.

This is what Neighbour Day has done for our street:

  • we host “wicked” Halloween street parties
  • we have cricket matches on the front lawn
  • we all wait for Santa to come on the fire truck on Christmas eve and some of us shout the CFA a drink on their way past
  • we share fruit and veggies
  • we dog sit for each other – my dog actually cries as we go past the sitters house – I think he wants to move there
  • we all drive carefully in the street because we know we live in a Playbourhood
  • we get group deals on gutter cleaning and pest control by booking in together
  • we share garden cuttings and some of us a working on a street theme of plantings
  • real estate agents actually refer to our friendly neighbourhood in their house ads
  • we feel comfortable to walk the block at night (which is awesome because it’s too hot to exercise here in the day).

Hopefully we’ll get back to Neighbour Day next year but missing it this year is no big deal because the community we want is already at our front door!

How my neighbourhood supported me to rise above

By Jayden Gilby
Youth fundraiser, Alice Springs
23 March 2018

 Jayden is a proud member of the Alice Springs neighbourhood and will be heading to East Timor to help construct a school funded by the Alice community. This is the speech delivered by Jayden at the national launch of Neighbour Day in Alice Springs on 9 March 2018.

I was born in Alice Springs and have lived here most of my life.

Alice Springs has a community full of brilliant people who seek to make Alice Springs the best place it can be.

Those who say good morning to strangers passing in the street, people coming together to support a cause which isn’t specific to the community much like my school construction project in East Timor which I started fundraising for last year, our emergency service workers who tirelessly work to keep us safe, and everyone in between are essential for the success as well as progress, for Alice Springs to continue to be a diverse and welcoming community.

As you know this year the neighbour day theme “is the importance for a supportive community for children and young people.”

I graduated from Year 12 at OLSH [Our Lady of Sacred Heart] college last year, but this was not by chance.

During my 10th Year of schooling I was really struggling with my schoolwork and other commitments. I found it difficult to plan my days and I started falling behind in most areas of work, and was seriously considering dropping out of school.

But this slowly changed with the support from people in my community, which was built up of my family, friends, teachers and work colleagues.

I was guided and supported when things were getting tough, and only then did I appreciate the people I was surrounded with.

Without the support of the community around me I wouldn’t have even made it to Year 11, let alone the opportunity to go to East Timor later that year with a group of students and teachers,

The experience changed my life and I’ll be heading back over there in April for three months to conduct meetings and logistics surrounding the construction of a school which I fundraised for with the help of many different people in Alice Springs including many strangers.

I feel privileged to be here today because it gives me the opportunity to share my personal story, and my story so far has taken a lot of effort to be the story it is now, yet the effort I put in to improving myself was the product of a supporting group of people from all over Alice Springs.

The communication, support, enthusiasm, and morality from my parents, peers, teachers and workmates has given me the ability to potentially alter somebody’s circumstances, so that they can present their best selves to the world.

That’s what a supportive community did for me, it allowed me to rise above the low standards I had set for myself, and has consequently led me here today to exemplify the importance and value of a community.

Alice Springs is that community and forever will be if we work collaboratively with our best interests at heart.

Thank you.

Putting children at the centre of our neighbourhoods

By Jodie Griffiths-Cook
ACT Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner
22 March, 2018

Jodie Griffiths-Cook is the Australian Capital Territory’s Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner. Amongst other things, Jodie’s role is about helping to make Canberra a better place for children and young people, promoting their rights, consulting and talking with children and young people, and encouraging organisations to listen and considering their views in decision making. She also provides advice to government and community agencies about how to improve service delivery for children and young people. This is an edited text of her speech to the ACT Neighbour Day launch on 1 March.

The theme for this year’s Neighbour Day centres on the importance of a supportive neighbourhood for children and young people, so I thought I’d ask my kids what being a good neighbour means to them.

My 12-year-old told me she liked being able to help people out when they needed it. She also said she felt safer knowing there were people around she could go to for help herself… and then added: ‘Oh, and neighbours are also handy when I need an extra egg to make a cake’.

My three-year-old said: ‘I like waving hello and having someone wave hello back’.

Although each child and young person is different, and their connection with their local community will differ, they all gain many benefits from being connected to their neighbourhoods.

Indeed, all of us gain from knowing our neighbours more closely. This is regardless of whether we know them just to say hello or engage enough to have a cup of tea or look after their cats when they are away.

Social networks influence our ideas, health, emotions and behaviour… for children and young people they can also have a significant impact on their physical, social and emotional development, and enhance their perceptions of safety.

For children and young people, being safe means feeling safe.

In 2011, the University of Western Sydney engaged a group of 12 year 5 students as the expert design team to help develop a child-friendly community for Dapto near Wollongong. The team helped researchers and developers analyse feedback from over 150 children and their parents, with over a quarter of the children involved saying what they liked most was having friendly people around. They also highlighted the importance of neighbourhoods in keeping them safe.

I think the comments from these children brilliantly reflect the theme of this Neighbour Day and of Neighbour Day as a whole. Indeed, the thoughts of these children may not be too different to the thoughts we might have as adults.

They serve to remind us just how important neighbourhoods are for the safety and wellbeing of children and young people.

I’m looking forward to celebrating Neighbour Day with those on my street.

It’s time to reconnect with those around us

By Hugh Mackay
Social researcher and author
21 March 2018

Neighbour Day Ambassador Hugh Mackay AO is one of Australia’s best known social researchers and the author of seventeen books – eleven in the fields of social psychology and ethics, and six novels. Hugh’s recent book, ‘The Art of Belonging’, explores the reasons why some communities thrive and others break down, and explains how community engagement enriches us all. In this blog Hugh talks about the importance of being socially connected to others.

We become deeply attached to particular places because of the life we associate with them.

The most lavish house in the world will ultimately seem pointless and empty – except as the equivalent of a velvet-lined cave that provides shelter – unless it works as a symbol of our connectedness.

This is why the true meaning of ‘home’ has little to do with bricks and mortar. Indigenous people’s attachment to the land – expressed as a quasi-mystical sense of place – points to the social significance of those places, their meanings for a tribal group, their cultural and ancestral significance, not their significance as a pile of rocks or a running stream per se.

We are not only defined, but actually sustained by our social networks. We thrive on being a part of a community – whether that is familial, social, residential, intellectual, cultural, political, religious, professional or vocational.

In the end, it makes no real sense – no biological sense, no psychological sense –for us to dwell on our identity as individuals. That’s not who we are. We’re tribal. We’re social. We’re communal. We need to belong.

But here’s the rub: communities don’t just happen. We have to create them and build them. That means participating in the life of the community – socially, commercially, culturally.

Yes, we’re sustained by our communities, but they don’t have a life of their own: we must nurture them. For communities to survive, we must engage with them and attend to them.

Being by nature ‘social creatures’, we need to feel that we belong to strong communities, but those communities also need us. Neighbourhoods, communities – even entire societies – can lose their ‘soul’ unless community-minded people are prepared to become involved in the life of the local community. It’s up to each one of us to take responsibility for the places where we live by engaging, volunteering, joining up and joining in.

Part of the magic of communities is that, however imperceptibly, they shape us to fit them. Any community we belong to – any setting where we gradually come to ‘feel at home’ – will make a rich contribution to the story of who we are.

This Neighbour Day, I encourage you to get up, get out, have a chat, organise a neighbourhood catch-up, attend a community event or reach out to someone nearby that needs a hand. You’ll feel better for it and you’ll be helping to nurture and support a community – and that benefits all of us.

After all, ‘the state of the nation starts in the street where you live’. 

It takes a village to raise a child – [thanks to the African proverb]

By Alison Brook,
National Executive Officer Relationships Australia
20 March 2018

My guess is that it hasn’t been too long since you had a conversation in which someone referred to ‘the good old days’ when they played outside with neighbours’ children, coming home when the street lights came on.

In conversations over the years it has become clear that many adults reminisce fondly about a bygone era in which children exercised greater freedoms, played outside with others unsupervised and for long periods, a time when no computer games were in sight.  The point of these discussions has been, invariably, to compare a child’s upbringing today as being poorer in many respects to children being raised in bygone times.

We know that children thrive in an environment of supporting, caring relationships – and that having a whole community of care enables its members to truly flourish, most particularly its children.

While not all children are currently kept safe, one explanation for many children being raised largely indoors or in enclosed spaces, is of over protective parenting – a risk-averse approach to raising children.

So what has changed that has made parents reluctant to let children out of their sight?  There are several explanations.

First, in many families both parents are in paid employment, leaving little time for adults to get to know and trust others who live around them.  Child care is outsourced to professionals, often located away from the family home and neighbourhood.

Second, families are presently less likely to live near grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, or even close family friends – in an age where professional mobility and independence are so jealously guarded.

If a childhood spent safely exploring the environment near home is to be valued, what can a neighbourhood do to provide a safe, child-friendly place where children are truly welcome and free to imagine, play, learn, navigate, negotiate, explore and create?

Each child’s parents and neighbours of families with children can:

  • Become an active part of the community and know who lives in the streets around them. We know that the better you know those who live around you, the greater the trust in them.
  • Involve themselves in local community organisations for children, such as Scouts and sporting clubs.
  • Be friendly and welcoming to children, by for example learning children’s names and the names of their parents.
  • Have open conversations in the street with other adults and children about how the street can together support, challenge and care for children, and give them opportunities for a start in life that is active, adventurous, contributing, social and gleeful.
  • Set up areas in public spaces (front garden, verges, parks, for example) that lend themselves to piquing a child’s imagination, and welcoming children to play there.
  • Pool resources – such as taking turns with neighbours to drop the kids to school or sporting venues.

There is much that a neighbourhood can do to value its children and demonstrate it by creating a place in which children can play with others and thrive.

It’s time to reconnect with those around us.

By Alison Brook
National Executive Officer, Relationships Australia
July 19 2017

The terrible discovery in Sydney this week of the deaths of an elderly man and his disabled wife for whom he was carer is a timely reminder of the importance of community connectedness and strong relationships with neighbours.

Without raking over the coals of this tragic story, it reminds us that most of us live near people who are vulnerable. It’s also our individual responsibility to connect with those around us and create communities that are caring and compassionate in a practical way.

If we think that the boundaries of our social obligations finish at the fenceline or shared walls of our respective homes, then the entire community will be deprived of a richness of mutual sharing and service that is available to us all.

It does not take much to reach out to an elderly neighbour.  While the greatest risk is that you may be brusquely rebuffed, it may well be that an offer to look out for them, or to have a weekly cup of tea with them transforms their later years – and helps them to feel cushioned by a sense of safety and belonging in their own homes.

Neighbour Day encourages people to connect with others in their apartment buildings, neighbourhoods or farming communities.  There are resources on the Neighbour Day website to help you break the ice on any day of the year.

Additionally, Relationships Australia (who sponsors the Neighbour Day campaign) has an elder relationships service available in many cities and regional areas around Australia to help families resolve an issue relating to an elder member.  The service, at its most fundamental, is a facilitated family meeting, enabling the family members to come to a common agreement (often about the care of the elder) in an emotionally safe way.  We also work therapeutically with family members during that process to enable them to function effectively and caringly into the future.

It is available to all of us to connect with others in our neighbourhoods to create thriving communities where the vulnerable and elderly feel safe to reach out.  There are also services available to our own families at times of crisis and change to enable us to continue to work and live together in ways that support our elderly family members.

Cyclone Debbie: The human stories

As a large continent, Australia has a range of extreme storms in different climatic areas, some seasonal and others described as a ‘one in [select a number]’ year events.  Although these descriptors seem clinical and dry, the events themselves are anything but regular in the lives of those people living in the path of the storm.

Cyclone Debbie recently had a serious impact on a broad area in Queensland and NSW – and was an excellent example of this:  while it was not the most severe of cyclone categories when it hit Australian soil (then downscaling quickly to a ‘tropical low’ storm), the damage wrought has been measured in billions of dollars, a non-emotive way to calculate and describe the severity of the disaster.  The calculations have been based on the estimated value of crops lost, fencing down, stock drowned, insurable claims and the value of non-insured losses.

I’m not sure how that data sounds to others, but to me (though ‘billions’ do sound a lot), it is what has happened to families and their communities – the human stories – that demonstrate the real loss.  The tragic loss of life.  The loss of family history through ruined photographs, heirlooms and personal treasures.  The loss of a family home that has witnessed a generation or more of laughter, tears, triumphs and tragedies.  The fatigue and grief of cleaning up and starting again.

And it is not just the impact of storm (or floods, or fires) on those who are living in its path.  There are the professional emergency services, emergency volunteers, defence personnel, electricity grid contractors, who work around the clock in the immediate lead up to, and aftermath of, such events.  These are often people living in the same communities they are working to save.  There are countless stories of volunteers losing their homes at the time they are working hard to save others’.  The impact on these people is enormous.

It is no coincidence that, as part of the sadness, anger and frustration that sets in after floods have flowed away and emergency services stood down, the incidence of family violence spikes.  This only adds to the trauma and further erodes a family’s resilience and ability to recover.

As I reflect on Debbie, having just read about her ongoing fury – this time impacting on communities in New Zealand – many people in Eastern Australia are still hurting.  Badly.

Some towns will observe rituals where floods and wind have taken lives of loved family members and neighbours.  Funerals will be held.  In one village in Northern NSW, a community will focus their grief on the coffins of one brave mother and two of her children she died trying to save.  Schools will hold memorial assemblies.  Tears will be shed, hugs will be tighter – their sad hold lingering while each gathers strength from the other.  And yet…

And yet, we all know that these communities will recover.  Neighbours will help neighbours.  Local councils (staffed by each town’s neighbours) will provide support and recovery services.  Someone will hose off and start their barbecue and encourage others to join them for a bit of downtime over a sausage and cold drink.  Stories will be swapped.  Sympathies exchanged.  Kids will step up beyond their young years in their will to be helpful to their families and others close by.  There will be countless kindnesses offered and received in every affected street and town.  In some cases, Debbie’s aftermath will see communities closer than they were before she furiously visited and left.

The value of neighbours, of belonging to a place, of caring for others and being cared for by others – these are universal values and have incalculable benefit.  They’re values that are not front-of-mind most of the time.  But when much is suddenly lost, young and old lives swept away, when material goods are irreparably damaged, when there is a long, hard slog ahead to put homes to rights:  that’s when neighbours are key.  When we know we are not alone.  When we find the energy after sweeping out tonnes of mud from our own homes to lend a hand next door.  This is when we know others are in the same boat and that it takes each community member’s best efforts to renew their sense of ‘us’.

Neighbour Day is a national movement aimed at reminding people of the value of forging good relationships with the people living around them.  There are many, many benefits, individually and collectively, of having strong social capital in all our neighbourhoods.  What is really exciting is that it is in every person’s capacity to help build that capital.  Though the capital cannot be measured in dollar terms, its value is realised in the real richness it brings to every community member when times are tough and the chips are down.

Small kindnesses from many

There have been many times in the past couple of years when I have been asked why Relationships Australia decided in 2013 to take on the annual Neighbour Day campaign.  My response has been that Neighbour Day is about the importance of healthy relationships within communities, and about the promotion of good mental health. Healthy relationships and good mental health are principal aims of Relationships Australia.

I have had an opportunity to reflect on changes to our way of life over decades, changes that mean good community relationships are less likely to occur organically in modern Australia. I reflected on the life of my own family as an illustration of the broader community – because if I have learned anything in this job, it is that people’s stories are powerful metaphors.

My grandmother lived in south-west Victoria all her life.  She was one of thirteen children and herself bore eight. Her life revolved around keeping hungry mouths fed, bodies clothed and caring for her extended family as well as others in the town when they needed nourishment and other help. My grandfather served in World War II and came back with what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder. His capacity to earn a good income was limited. Today we would label the family as disadvantaged, and living under the poverty line.

Yet, when I think about my grandmother, I recall a real richness about her – her capacity to love many and the reciprocated love many had for her. That love was expressed in small kindnesses. A casserole wrapped in a towel and left on a doorstep. A batch of scones for a parish morning tea. Caring for a child when his parents were unable.

I recall her funeral. The church was packed. The whole town turned out to honour and farewell a marvellous life well lived. After her burial we were ushered into the church hall to find the local CWA had prepared a truly appropriate send-off: trestle table after trestle table groaning under platters of mouth-watering treats. Scones, cakes, lamingtons, slices, biscuits, pastries and pies – small kindnesses from many.

Small kindnesses from many. Is this a definition of healthy community?

I also reflect on the communities in which I have lived. I found almost no connection in an inner-city apartment, where residents felt a greater need for privacy than connection; suburban living where there was some connection and less privacy, and in a rural area where connection is strong, practical kindnesses many.

Inevitably, things have changed since my grandmother was a young woman raising a family. These include living and employment arrangements in many families where all adults are working for income outside the home, and where child care is provided by paid carers. Adults return at the end of each day tired and depleted. This leaves whole streets with most homes empty during daylight hours. Those who remain are often carers, people with disability, and the elderly. The elderly still living in their homes are left to their own devices except when social services visit, with sometimes lengthy periods between family visits. While this scenario is not the rule, it is common, and illustrates that a need for community connection is likely high and unmet.

In decades past, the local church was a community hub, a place from where social life emanated and social services coordinated. It was a place where children were welcomed into Sunday school, where teenagers met their partners, where adults married, procreated, aged and died. We know that attendance at Christian churches has declined in recent decades and that regular churchgoers are, in many instances, from an ageing demographic.

It is important to acknowledge and honour that we all live on land traditionally owned by the First Peoples of Australia, but it is the plethora of recently arrived cultures and religions that is a major change from my grandmother’s day. Reaching out to a neighbour from a different culture or who speaks a different language can be cause for extra shyness, reserve or even suspicion, and deter people from connecting with others in their neighbourhoods. In some communities, this very diversity has been embraced with dividends for all. One of Neighbour Day’s Very Neighbourly Organisations, the Welcome Dinner Project, brings families recently arrived to Australia into the homes of people who would like to extend a welcome but need a helping hand. Whichever way the hand of friendship is extended, through a wave, smile, cake, offer of help, a lift to the shop – it is the kindness that is universal and which may be transformational.

People living in neighbourhoods that are highly connected enjoy, overall, higher levels of physical and mental health, with the converse also true. 55% of people who ring Lifeline’s help line have been found to live alone and feel socially isolated and lonely. beyondblue’s research shows that lonely people are more likely to report symptoms of depression, are admitted to hospital more frequently, have higher blood pressure and are at a greater risk of heart attack than others. There has been much research into this – and a list of references to recent research can be found at the end of this blog.  While a friendly neighbour may not be the panacea, they may make a significant difference to someone’s wellbeing and appetite for life.

Relationships Australia, committed to the promotion of good relationships and excellent mental health, sees Neighbour Day as an ongoing opportunity to remind people about the importance of community connection in their lives as well as an individual responsibility on each person to create a well-connected neighbourhood. Small kindnesses from many.

This website contains resources and guidance to start connecting in your neighbourhood.  If you have other good ideas, or would like to feed into our understanding of community connection, please provide us with that feedback, and your story. It is the stories about real human connection at the local neighbourhood level that inspire all of us to rise above our reserve and knock on the door of the person down the road whose burden may be lightened, or even life transformed by that small kindness.

Alison Brook
National Executive Officer
Relationships Australia
And big fan of Neighbour Day

Link to research