By Nick Tebbey, National Executive Officer, Relationships Australia
24 March 2020
The concept of what it means to be a neighbour is changing, both as a result of advances in technology and in response to rapidly changing world events. Today, a ‘neighbour’ can include anyone with whom you share a community and is no longer limited by physical location.
In a similar way, Neighbour Day has evolved from a reminder to connect with elderly or other vulnerable neighbours to an annual celebration of strong communities, and the important role they play in the lives of all Australians.
Neighbour Day was started to address loneliness and social isolation within society and its message is more important than ever. Australia is amidst a loneliness epidemic with many in our population suffering from a lack of social connection, which can result in a range of negative health effects for an individual and have negative impacts within society more broadly. With the current crises facing us, as well as the rest of the world, it has never been more important to focus on how each of us can build and strengthen social connections and community while maintaining safe and healthy relationships with those in our life.
Celebrations of Neighbour Day have traditionally been face-to-face gatherings, however, given the challenges the world is currently facing in the light of COVID-19, getting together physically at this time is no longer appropriate and Relationships Australia encourages everyone to find other ways to connect and engage with their neighbours and communities. Examples include online/virtual connections through social media or important acts of kindness such as leaving ‘calling cards’ in neighbours’ letterboxes with a kind message and your phone number so that they can call you for a chat. Sometimes just checking in can be the most important step you take.
Already, in response to the current crisis, we have seen stories of neighbours delivering groceries to those in isolation, having chats (or playing games) across the balcony or back fence, and even setting up group trivia, dinner parties and a “couch choir” via webcam. All of these examples show us that creative connections are possible even while maintaining safe physical distancing and, where necessary, isolation and quarantine.
Social connection and safe, healthy relationships are vital to a functional and productive society. It is up to each of us to help build the relationships, communities and, ultimately, the world we want to live in. Neighbour Day is traditionally celebrated on the last Sunday in March, however the day itself is a catalyst and we at Relationships Australia believe that every day is, and should be, neighbour day. It’s the conscious efforts we each make to contribute positively to society and the communities we are part of that are so important.
Neighbours matter, and now, more than ever, is the time to find creative connections.
Relationships Australia has been a leading voice encouraging healthy relationships and the wellbeing of children, families, individuals and communities for over 70years and the home of Neighbour Day since 2014.