Tell Us Your Story Winners – Neighbour Day 2019
Six stories of how neighbours have challenged loneliness and created a sense of belonging in their local communities have won prizes in the 2019 Tell Us Your Story competition.
National and South Australian winner – Annemijn
A spare room that Peared together a community
A year and a half ago, none of us imagined that what used to be a spare room would now be a bustling neighbourhood node for our local community. But it is exactly what happened after Christie and Joost asked their neighbours what they could do with their underused shop-front spare room next to Alberton train station and everyone unanimously said “COFFEE!”
The reason they asked the neighbours what to do in the first place was that the neighbour across the road had gone in to hospital and never came back.
Christie and Joost were devastated it took six weeks after his death for them to find out and decided they needed to do something to bring neighbours closer together and to reduce social isolation and loneliness.
So a little bit over a year ago, they opened cafe The Pear in their spare room. They employed six local people to make coffees, cook breakfasts, bake muffins and, most importantly, create a space for everyone in the neighbourhood to feel welcome, included and valued seven days a week.
What was simply a neighbourhood a year ago, is now a community of people who feel connected to their local area, who feel a sense of belonging to their local community and who have increased the amount and quality of contact they have with other locals. Each week, dozens of community members now participate in walking groups, knitting club, gardening group, book club, tai chi, art classes, parents and bubs mornings, school holiday activities, and numerous conversations and workshops that are facilitated by neighbours themselves. The activities are always free.
Everyone that wants to can share their skills or knowledge in a workshop, their local produce in the GrowFree wheelbarrow out the front, or their handmade or second-hand products at one of the street markets The Pear organises.
Over twenty local amateur bakers of all ages come in to the cafe to bake and sell their cakes. Older neighbours offer their time as dedicated baby holders while parents have a cup of coffee. As new people come in to the cafe, new projects, programs and activities spring to life all the time. The Pear has become a place to meet new and old friends over coffee and cake, and where everyone contributes to the community in their own way.
QLD Winner – Irene
Neighbourhood magic – just add tulips
Five years ago I moved into a townhouse complex and looking at my empty front garden patch, I decided it was time to create the garden I had always dreamed of. I bought some plants and found three wooden tulips, which I added to the garden for colour. The next day two of the tulips had disappeared – to the garden next door.
I went over, introduced myself and mentioned the tulips. My neighbour asked her four-year-old daughter if she had taken them.
“Yes Mummy, I wanted fairies to come to my garden just like they are at Irene’s place”.
The little girl was so upset that I gave her the tulips.
“Now we will have fairies here too, Mummy,” she said.
Each day I found some fairy items and added these to the garden. Over the next days I had knocks on the door from young children asking if I had anything they could put into the garden. One was from a boy saying: “I know I’m twelve years old and boys aren’t supposed to like fairy gardens but I do. Do you have anything I can put in?” I always found something.
In the early days, many children thanked me because they felt lonely at times; but now had found other children to be friends with though being connected to the garden in some way.
One hot summer, I was away for two weeks and didn’t expect my plants to survive but by some miracle they actually thrived. I found out my neighbour opposite had been weeding and watering the garden to keep the magic alive. One time, I even found a pumpkin with a note ‘For you, from the Fairies’. Another time, I was approached by a neighbour asking me if she could take a mushroom that needed painting. I’ll bring it back painted” she said and she did.
With time many children have grown up or moved away. Some still come to play in the garden. Who would ever have imagined that three wooden tulips and the belief in fairies by a four-year-old, could have brought a neighbourhood together in such magical ways. I will always be grateful for the experience and the connections made.
I realised that to make a difference all you need is a common goal and a heart full of magic and love. Everything else takes care of itself.
WA Winner – Jade
My neighbours – life rafts on the sea
I moved to WA seven years ago leaving behind all family and friends to make a new life for myself. Where I have moved to my neighbours were incredible from the very beginning. I live alone and they have always been there for an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on or too borrow some eggs when you run out for your cake! Over the years other families have moved in from different cultures and different states and we’ve all been sucked into this vortex of companionship and friendship. Our neighbour group has battled through life, deaths, relationships and teenagers. I recently had surgery and they all stepped up and made sure I wasn’t alone and was cared for, looked after and fed. These neighbours of mine are a life raft when the seas of loneliness get rough. They are my friends, they are my family. We are a unit.
NSW WINNER – Maria
Tiny town – and a big community – all in the one apartment block
We live in an apartment block in Greenwich, NSW called Kimberley Tower which is 55-years-old. It is comprised of 15 apartments, 8 are owner residents and 7 are renter residents. Some residents have lived in the block for over 40 years whilst some for only a year.
Ages of our residents range from two-years-old to nearly 90. A quarter of the residents are under 30, a quarter under 50, a quarter under 70, and a quarter under 100. No age discrimination in our block which makes our frequent gatherings great fun.
We view our block as a ‘tiny town’ in a big city.
We actively promote our ‘tiny town’ of neighbours (owners and renters all included and valued) which has greatly promoted a community feel, friendships, and caring and responsibility for the building and garden including:
- a community vegetable and herb garden
- a communal BBQ area (set up from recycled and upcycled equipment and materials)
- working bees
- frequent BBQs – at least four times per year
- informal meetings for the residents to discuss any issues and new ideas to improve the block with drinks and nibbles at someone’s apartment
- frequent dinner parties between neighbours – usually a range of guests eg. three apartments – one of 30 years old, another of 50 years old and another of 80 years old.
- annual dinner in a local restaurant
- communication including email / mobile – owners – residents and non-residents – and renter residents
- a Kimberley Tower group for those on Facebook
- almost, on a daily basis, someone is dropping in to one of their neighbours to chat or get assistance eg. getting decorating advice, having deep and meaningfuls, helping with IT, carrying shopping up the stairs, carrying luggage to their car, changing light bulbs, opening a window, identifying communal herbs to use for a meal, and finding lost mobile phones in their apartment
- celebrating big occasions like weddings.
It is a lot of work, but our ‘tiny town’ is a great place to live. We have a great vault of the apartments history and knowledge to help us run it. Neighbours run in to each other daily, have a quick chat and discuss the next gathering, issue or idea. In fact, a number of residents who have left still keep in contact with us and visit us years later – sometimes from overseas where they have relocated!
Victorian WINNER – Liz
Good coffee, good friends
I work with a team of volunteers running a small non-profit community cafe in a residential area of Frankston. Our motto is ‘a place of refreshment, where people can find a warm welcome, and a good (fairtrade) coffee, at an affordable price’. Our goal is to create and strengthen neighbourhood relationships.
We have got to know many of our neighbours in the streets immediately surrounding our cafe, many of whom live alone, and walking is their main way of getting around. Meeting at our cafe, a number of local people have also got to know each other, and formed lasting relationships which would otherwise not have occurred. We have seen some of these new friends helping each other through some difficult times, including bereavements. We have a group of men who now get together regularly to talk and support and encourage each other.
We celebrate Neighbour Day each year with a free community sausage sizzle, and provide information about local networks and resources that are available. We letterbox the local area to let people know about our Neighbour Day event. Every year we meet one or two new people this way. Every day I see evidence that people who would otherwise be very lonely and isolated have found a haven of welcome and acceptance.
I am so pleased to see the friendships that would not have begun if our cafe was not here for people to meet each other in the first place, and have a welcoming space to gather and get to know each other.
NT WINNER – Belinda
Keeping an eye – and ear – out for the neighbours
Michelle next door is the best. I don’t want my neighbour to be my best friend but it’s nice to know that your neighbour will look out for you. And me for her. In Darwin with open louvers we live close and share every aspect of our lives. Noise travels up and down the street. Being a good neighbour in Darwin means knowing when to intervene and when not to. Everyday getting the kids to school, discussion, couples disagreements or football match gatherings can be heard in our street. You learn to listen for the unusual, when things don’t seem right. Michelle heard lots of smashing one day and called over the fence, what’s going on in there!! It’s okay Michelle I called back, I’ve started mosaics. Oh! Michelle answered and continued gardening. In Darwin, we are all Michelle’s, keeping an eye out for each other. Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!
Special Winner Kate from Victoria
My mate Dave has a trailer. Once he told me that as a younger man he realized that being the guy with the trailer would assist him with maintaining social connections. I guess he was right about that because we do tend to cook up schemes around the trailer, particularly regarding the garden and its seasonal needs. Dave is a generous man and always makes time to do mulch runs, for which I pay him a token amount to cover the mulch and the petrol but not the labour. The other day, on receiving a great load of pine bark for the coming autumn it occurred to me that Dave is a reliable friend with a practical way of being, contrasting with my own more antisocial way of being a homebody on the couch with the door locked and the phone set to silent most of the time, without much chop in terms of offering reciprocation, so our garden enhancing arrangement is kind of one way. What to do for Dave? This question perplexes me because I haven’t skills in the finer arts of cooking meals or selecting gifts and I don’t like going out, particularly as I live regionally and driving long distances isn’t my favourite pastime, driving is something I recover from rather than seek to do. Dave also has a bunch of kids and can’t drop everything to go heel and toe on the town anyway.