Love, heroism, generosity and community
By Alison Brook | Chief Executive Officer | Relationships Australia Canberra and Region
8 January 2020
Writing from the ACT at a time when we’ve had extensive fires for more than a month in several states across Australia, and devastation in the past week over large tracts of the country, it’s fair to say we’re in the midst of an unprecedented disaster – to humankind, to our forests and farmland, to our beloved fauna and to property.
It’s also fair to say that not many Australians have been unaffected, either directly or through the experience of family, friends and colleagues. We are facing unprecedented climatic conditions. We’re facing a devastating level of fire activity. We’re in uncharted territory as a nation and are the focus of the eyes of the rest of the world. This event may be a game-changer the world has been waiting for, to change political and economic systems, in order that we can collectively channel resources and scientific expertise into saving what is left of our natural world. This is indeed the globe’s existential problem.
In the midst of the turmoil, the political posturing, buck-passing and human-induced mayhem, there are a number of wonderful things that transcend the disaster.
The first of these is love. There are so many stories already of people who have lost everything but, homeless, have turned up at their neighbour’s home to help put out spot fires there, of those who have gone straight back from their own devastation to evacuation centres, volunteering their services to others. The word ‘love’ has even been used by hard-nosed journalists, moved by the kindnesses they have encountered in fire-ravaged communities. It is a beautiful reminder that love is universal and that in times of disaster, love helps to balance the world.
The second is heroism. Those who fight fires supported by other first responders are astounding in their professionalism and courage. Theirs is the task of facing the terror of fires that are unstoppable in their fury, guarding people’s lives and property against the fires’ unforgiving onslaught. Theirs is the courage to leave their own vulnerable homes to secure the homes of others. Their heroism outclasses fictional superheroes – role models all people can hold in the highest esteem.
The third is generosity. Led by many around the world who see the Australian disaster as the clarion call to international action on climate change and the protection of our natural world, there have been countless donations aimed at alleviating the destruction from this current event and starting the process of building resources that will help in our fight to stem the impact of rapidly changing climate in this country and globally. Whether it is a crowd-funded contribution of tens of millions of dollars or large or more modest individual donations depending on capacity, people are opening their hearts and their wallets and giving with incredible generosity. Generosity other than through cash donations is also everywhere to see. In individual and collective acts of kindness and selflessness.
The fourth is community – and our innate need to belong and contribute. There are countless tales of communities being drawn closer together, supporting each other to face a future together that is bleak, but bearable if faced collectively. Neighbour helping neighbour. Local businesses giving freely of stock, cash or services. Local community organisations providing support from communal facilities. In many places, people in the past week have spoken about their communities becoming closer than ever before, members knowing truly that they belong and are loved.
When I look back on the first week of January 2020 in future years, I hope that the horror and devastation open to the world on TV screens, social media feeds and countless websites are countered by the natural beauty of community, belonging, generosity, heroism and ultimately, of love.
Measuring Neighbourhood Liveability – by people, for people!
By Ainsley Milton, Account Manager Place Score
There are lots of ways government and business measure neighbourhood liveability, but only one that is measured by people living there! At Place Score we take a ‘human-centric’ approach to measure liveability by capturing the voice of the community.
So far, over 10,000 people from across Australia have told us what they care about in their ideal neighbourhood, with a further 5,000 rating their neighbourhood.
While you may have thought that a person’s age and background shapes their values, interestingly it seems to be where you live that really has impact.
Our research has revealed that regional coastal communities like Townsville and Coffs Harbour really value ‘Elements of the natural environment (natural features, views, vegetation, topography, water, wildlife etc.)’ while their metro Sydney counterparts priorities ‘General condition of public open space (street trees, footpaths, parks etc.).
What makes our research important?
With Australia’s population continuing to grow, the primary focus is on where people will live, work and play, and how will we connect key land uses. In an ideal world, government should be aiming to localise co-dependent activities because of the multiple benefits that cascade from them; closer communities, less dependence on transportation, stronger local economies, healthier people and more.
For existing neighbourhoods, this is likely to mean more housing closer to existing amenity like shops, train stations, education or health. This makes sense. Yet… it also potentially causes conflict because people embedded in these neighbourhoods may feel that any change will be detrimental to their current way of life.
Place Score was developed with the primary intention of helping understand what people really care about, how they rate their current lived experience and when we aggregate these two data sets, to clearly identify priorities for government and private sector development.
As well as revealing liveability improvement priorities, we can also identify neighbourhood strengths – characteristics that are both highly valued and performing well which should be retained and protected into the future.
We’re really excited to help communities shape a future for their places that improves people’s lives by prioritising the common good and reducing conflict. Our data means that government not only hears the loudest voices but, more importantly, to segment the data so they can hear what the little voices are saying too.
Want to tell Place Score what you care about?
Place Score’s research reveals that at a national level, most people care about the ‘General condition of public space (street trees, footpaths, parks etc.)’, ‘Elements of the natural environment (natural features, views, vegetation, topography, wildlife etc.)’ and ‘Sense of personal safety (for all genders, day or night.)’.
Don’t agree? Place Score is currently conducting a survey about neighbourhoods across Australia and you are invited to participate. Your voice will help shape future city planning decisions.
Rest assured, the information and opinions you provide are completely confidential will be used only for research purposes. The survey will take approximately 5-7 minutes to complete.
As an incentive, each survey participant has the chance of winning one of five $50 vouchers of your choice from one of eighty retailers.
For more information about Place Score, please visit their website: www.placescore.org
Problem + Problem = Solution
We interviewed CEO Anthony Chesler about the amazing work of Thread Together and this is what he had to say.
01 November 2019
What can you tell us about Thread Together?
Millions of items of unsold, brand-new clothing are dumped by stores into landfill every year. As a society we recognise that people need food and shelter – however, we often don’t realise people also need basic clothing. Many Australians don’t have access to a warm winter jumper, comfortable, waterproof shoes or even a clean pair of underwear. Clothing doesn’t just protect us from the elements – it also helps shape our confidence, dignity and motivation, and that has the power to turn lives around. Thread Together offers a socially responsible way for the fashion world to donate their end-of-line stock to those in our community going through a tough time, as well as being a win for the environment.
So how does it work?
We collect the stock and take it to our warehouse, and charities can then either order clothes via an online portal or by referring clients to our Clothing Hubs in Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide, which are set up to provide an authentic shopping experience. Customers are invited to choose outfits that match their style and personality as well as their circumstances – providing choice within a dignified, safe and positive environment. We believe offering choice is crucial to helping restore dignity and pride.
Which big names have come on board?
We’ve partnered with The Iconic, General Pants, Camilla and Marc, Bec+Bridge, Springcourt, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, amongst others. The list keeps growing – the more brands find out about us, the more they want to be part of this ethical response to fashion waste.
How can ordinary people get involved?
Through a network of over 150 charity partners and numerous dedicated corporate partners and volunteers, Thread Together provides new clothing to 2,000 people per week. We couldn’t do that without the support of our community – we don’t charge the charities we work with or the people that we help. It costs us $5 to clothe a person – for the price of a coffee, you could make a profound impact someone’s life – with the huge bonus being the win for the environment at the same time.
What’s been most rewarding about your work so far?
Our work goes directly to giving people as much dignity as possible at their darkest time. It is a service that recognises that tough times eventually subside. Whilst someone is going through it, the very best should be afforded to that person to get them back on track.
And that was Neighbour Day 2019
By Sam Robinson, Neighbour Day Campaign Manager
12 April 2019
It was a huge year for Neighbour Day in 2019, with communities from all corners of Australia participating in variety of neighbourly events, from garage sales to street libraries to barbeques, parties, and even street art installations.
The theme for Neighbour Day this year was: Loneliness: what neighbours can do to create connections and Australia has done a fantastic job of doing just that. We would like to say thank you to all our Very Neighbourly Organisations and our amazing ambassadors, who helped to make Neighbour Day a success.
I’d like to share with you some of the highlights of this year’s Neighbour Day.
Australia’s most well-known Neighbours get behind Neighbour Day
One of Neighbour Day’s Very Neighbourly Organisations, R U OK? caught up with their ambassador and Ramsay Street favourite, Rob Mills, for Neighbour Day this year. Rob suggests that being neighbourly might seem daunting for some of us, but a small gesture can go a long way.
He says creating strong connections is as simple as “being community minded. Thinking of others, and being a good person.”
Dementia Australia and their ambassador, Takaya Honda, also used Neighbour Day to shine a light on the loneliness suffered by people living with dementia, who often become socially isolated as a result of their illness.
Through their support program, Dementia Friendly, Dementia Australia is seeking to educate the public on the disease and how best to reach out to sufferers, to help improve their quality of life, because as Takaya says “everyone deserves good neighbours.”
State emergency and the importance of neighbours
This year the Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES), Country Fire Authority (CFA), and the Red Cross united with Relationships Australia, to celebrate Neighbour Day and encourage communities across the state to build healthy relationships with others who live in their community.
They issued a Neighbour Day challenge to all SES, CFA and Red Cross members in Victoria with the chance to win one of 15 Bunnings vouchers valued at $200 each, and kindly sponsored by PDF Food Services
The challenge was simple.
Do something with your neighbours, or anything neighbourly on Sunday March 31 – and share (photo, video, story) on social media tagging their agency.
We know that creating a positive relationship with your neighbour, and having an understanding of who could be vulnerable during an emergency, may help save lives.
A big thanks to these three organisations for the very neighbourly work they do every day of the year – including Neighbour Day!
Healthy Tasmania Neighbour Day Challenge
For the second year running, the Department of Health in Tasmania teamed up with Relationships Australia Tasmania for their annual Healthy Tasmania Community Challenge. The challenge encouraged people to reach out to those around them to create well-connected communities, by either hosting or attending a registered Neighbour Day event on March 31st.
Entrants had the opportunity to win either $1,000 or $5,000 for their region (North, North West and South) by simply registering their Neighbour Day event and in 500 words or less describing:
- The planned Neighbour Day event and the group involved.
- How they would spend $5,000 or $1,000 in their town or neighbourhood to help create connections and address loneliness in their community.
The winners of the draw were announced on the 5th of April, and we’re excited to see how each region will use the prize money to better their community!
Neighbour Day every day
A special mention also goes out to Very Neighbourly Organisation City of Kwinana, which launched Neighbour Day Every Day on Neighbour Day.
This new place-based program encourages community members to make every day count by providing resources and support to make every day Neighbour Day.
Community members are guided by the City’s Place Leaders to organise and host activities in their streets and local parks with their neighbours. A handy resource kit and access to an activity box (sports, games, etc.) helps neighbours create connections.
What about the other 364 days of the year?
Recent research tells us that Neighbour Day helps create ongoing and enduring connections between people and their communities. These enduring connections are what help people emerge from loneliness, they contribute to building a sense of belonging and give people a sense of purpose and identity.
With continued interaction, relationships formed through Neighbour Day often lead to increased neighbourhood trust which in turn leads to neighbours experiencing a greater sense of safety in their neighbourhood, and offering support to each other.
So no surprises really!
We reckon that every day is Neighbour Day and we encourage you to keep at it. For every smile, every g’day, every kindness and every other neighbourly action you take, you are making a positive difference and helping to grow stronger and more inclusive communities.
What Neighbours Can Do to Create Connections
By Nick Tebbey, National Executive Officer Relationships Australia
31 March 2019
Neighbour Day is finally upon us, and I am excited to see how it has been embraced around the country as many Australians, from a variety of backgrounds, join in the Loneliness Challenge.
This year’s Neighbour Day theme has shown just how important relationships and connection can be in the fight against loneliness – an epidemic taking hold in many nations across the world.
Equally, I have been proud to witness the power of community and the passion of dedicated Australians who, no matter their social or economic background, have recognised the importance of reaching out to those around them.
It is for this reason that Neighbour Day remains such an important day, and is one which the teams at Relationships Australia offices across the country are so proud to stand behind. We know – I think everyone does – that healthy relationships can be the key to unlocking good mental health, promoting physical well-being and building resilience in communities.
Neighbour Day is therefore vital because it focuses on some of the most accessible, but often least appreciated, relationships: those with people in our immediate vicinity.
In my last blog, when I issued the Loneliness Challenge, I spoke of my own experience as a new father, bringing a newborn baby into a quiet unit complex. My wife and I couldn’t have been more grateful for the friendliness, offers of help and perhaps most important, expressions of understanding and support we received from our neighbours.
Today, almost three years later, our son knows almost all of our neighbours, frequently joining the older kids in our complex for a quick kick of a soccer ball, or helping our elderly neighbour water his front garden.
The power of this community, and the relationships that are formed, can be seen clearly in his greater appreciation of difference: different people from different age groups, cultures and backgrounds. At the same time, it is abundantly clear that despite some obvious differences, there is so much togetherness that comes from a simple “smile” or “hello”.
I am truly grateful that as he grows, so too does his appreciation and respect for those around him, and I thank our neighbours for the small but important role they play in that.
So on March 31, 2019, I think it is crucial that we all pause to think about our neighbours, and the power of simple connection in the face of an increasingly disconnected and busy world.
Let’s remember the relative ease with which we can reach out to our neighbours – it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, though of course it can be – and who knows, we might all be able to play a role in diminishing social isolation and loneliness for those around us, and maybe even for ourselves.
If we all could take some simple steps to end loneliness, the benefits that would follow are untold – for us, our neighbours and ultimately for Australia. Who knows, perhaps we have the key to ending loneliness right here in our hands!
Happy Neighbour Day!
Nick Tebbey is National Executive Officer of Relationships Australia
The importance of neighbours in emergencies
By Jamie Devenish, Manager of Emergency Management Planning at the Victorian SES
22 March 2019
In 2018, members of three emergency management agencies: Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES), Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Red Cross, attended an inspiring presentation in Melbourne from visiting US researcher Dr Daniel Aldrich on the importance of social capital in disasters. Following the 2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami that killed around 17,000 people, Dr Aldrich and his team examined the deaths and survivability factors along the affected Japanese coastline. Their findings noted that the pockets of community with a high degree of social capital and connections to those that lived around them, fared much better, both in surviving the Tsunami as well as for those that did survive in recovering from the disaster afterwards. There are some incredible stories of neighbours collecting known elderly, immobile or vulnerable people on their way out as the alerting sirens activated and community quickly sought higher ground.
After Dr Aldrich’s presentation, members of the three agencies discussed what we could do to try and create better neighbourly connections in Victorian communities. Neighbour Day is the perfect pre-existing campaign as the annual day of celebration of community. Combining Dr Aldrich’s post-disaster research with the existing Neighbour Day campaign, the three agencies have joined forces for Neighbour Day 2019 to form the ‘VICSES, CFA & Red Cross Neighbour Day Challenge’.
For emergency service organisations, the campaign is built on the premise that proactive engagement with neighbours, leads to more enduring connections and higher social capital which results in better community outcomes before, during and after emergencies. In the Victorian emergency context, it might be a bushfire or a flood where those neighbourhood connections will be so important, or even a single house fire or fallen tree on a house during a storm. A neighbour simply informing those responding on arrival as to who lives in the affected property and where they might be, can be invaluable information which is not possible without a neighbourly connection.
So in 2019 a coordinated social media competition (the Neighbour Day Challenge) will encourage all members of the three agencies (around 80,000 volunteers and staff) to connect with their neighbours. By leveraging off an existing Red Cross partnership with PFD Foods, we’ve been able to offer some prizes as an incentive to our members to participate. A targeted evaluation of select member participants will help measure whether the single-day activity has led to any lasting connections with neighbours.
A different kind of happy hour
By Gina Olivieri
15 March 2019
I recently got interested in positive psychology. What’s that? Think of it as the study of the stuff you can do to be happier, the stuff that makes life better, rather than mainstream psychology which focuses on defining and fixing mental illness.
Positive psychology is interested in positive interventions – things you can do to be happier and have better well-being – that are often remarkably simple.
It occurred to me recently that although I have a major depressive disorder – which I manage with medication, talk therapy and careful choices of what I demand of my body and brain – I am actually also really happy. And I think that’s really rad.
I am deliberately and excessively open about my condition because stigma around mental health absolutely must end. It is isolating, confusing and shame-inducing. It cuts us off from potential sources of support and leaves us vulnerable to further distress and harm. I got to wondering how much easier it would be to manage depression if close, easily accessed resources – like neighbours – were more commonly called upon in our hour of need.
It got me wondering why we don’t spend more time talking about the things that help us cope and be resilient in times of stress and sadness.
And so I created The Happy Hour.
Every week I host a one-hour event in my living room, with any neighbours who care to join in. At The Happy Hour we get to know one another, talk about our experiences of happiness, share our wisdom, listen, and explore ways to be happier.
The group is in its infancy, but I hope in time we also become a source of support for one another. Having a hard time? How can the group help? Maybe Penny can meet up with you for a walk. Maybe I can cook you a few meals. Maybe Fran can teach you to meditate. Maybe you’d feel good sinking your hands into the earth and doing some gardening with Nonie. Maybe a cup of tea with Michael is what you’d like.
By tapping into the resources and strengths literally at our doorsteps, I hope to ease the burden of my neighbours in times of need and increase our resilience, well-being and ultimately make the neighbourhood happier.
Would a Happy Hour work in your neighbourhood?
Why not give it a try?
Gina was part of the organising team for Neighbour Day in her Neighbourhood, and the Tell Us Your Story winner for Tasmania. She runs Hobby Exchange in her Neighbourhood, which is how The Happy Hour began.
How to host a Neighbour Day event
By Sam Robinson, Neighbour Day Campaign Manager
8 March 2019
Every year, hundreds of communities throughout Australia host Neighbour Day events – from large events hosted by many enthusiastic local councils, to small backyard gatherings with a few neighbours keen to connect with each other.
We have been asking many Neighbour Day hosts and participants about their experience of running an event and we thought it would be useful to share some of their insights so you can make the most of your Neighbour Day event.
Perhaps the key piece of advice is that the event needs to be adapted to your local neighbourhood. Successful events are built around the characters of the people in your community, the facilities you have available, and sometimes the support and generosity of local authorities and community organisations in making facilities available.
We suggest for your first Neighbour Day event, only attempt something you think is manageable.
If possible pick a communal area if not the local park, a front lawn or even car park might do. This kind of venue will be far less intimidating for people than a house or in an apartment and it may encourage more people to join in.
If you are planning to use facilities on council land, make sure you contact your local councils or shire. They are often supportive of initiatives to strengthen their community with a number of councils across Australia acknowledged as Very Neighbourly Organisations.
As you plan your event, think about involving your neighbours. They may have some great ideas about what you can do and also help out with the practical tasks of preparing and issuing invitations, preparing food, making name tags, blowing up balloons and creating a clean-up squad.
Once you’ve decided on a venue and what you are planning to do at your event, jump online and register it with us here at Neighbour Day. It only takes about 30 seconds but it helps us measure community interest in Neighbour Day and shows that you and your neighbours want to create healthy, and resilient neighbourhoods.
If you are keen to get a crowd along, don’t forget to publicise your event. We have a few helpful resources on our website that can assist.
A challenge for all hosts each March is the weather – with March proving to be an unpredictable month for sunshine, rain, storms, warmth and even cyclones. So make sure you have a wet/warm/cold/storm weather plan!
And don’t forget to stay safe –any risks associated with the conduct of Neighbour Day events are the responsibility of the hosts and their neighbourhoods and communities. It is important to consider the wellbeing of participants in your event planning.
The one common thing about both participants and hosts at Neighbour Day events is that they all have a similar shared desire to create, deepen or renew relationship with neighbours.
People who attend Neighbour Day gatherings report that they value their community as much as the hosts, and the most immediate effect of Neighbour Day for them is that they create new relationships, or renew and deepening existing relationships.
With continued interaction, these relationships then often led to increased neighbourhood trust and neighbours experiencing a greater sense of safety in their neighbourhood
Neighbour Day events also led many people joining existing community groups, or organising their own groups and events.
Our research shows that ongoing Neighbour Day events develop a sense of community ownership, often reduced the effort required from a host to organise the event because all their neighbours pitch in, or step in to take on the organising role themselves.
So don’t delay – get organised, get busy and get your Neighbour Day event planning underway!
By Nick Tebbey, National Executive Officer Relationships Australia
1 March 2019
Today Neighbour Day is issuing a Loneliness Challenge to all Australians. We are asking everyone to help end loneliness in their neighbourhood by committing to create a connection with someone in their local community each week this March.
It could be a small action – a few friendly words across the back fence, inviting an elderly neighbour in for a cuppa, organising a community get-together, or stopping for a chat when walking the dog.
It could be a grand gesture – organising a big neighbourhood BBQ, engaging the neighbours in a street fair, putting on a community concert.
This year, our theme for Neighbour Day is ‘loneliness – what neighbours can do to create connections’. The theme builds on the work done by Relationships Australia in 2018 to raise awareness of the loneliness crisis facing Australia.
Relationships Australia’s research found that one in ten people lack social support or connection and one in six are experiencing emotional loneliness. Alarmingly, just under 1.5 million Australians are reporting that they’ve experienced loneliness for a decade or more.
Single parents, particularly single fathers, are most likely to experience the key indicators of loneliness with almost 40% of younger fathers reporting a lack of social support and more than 40% reporting emotional loneliness.
Other key findings of the research were that widowed men and women under 65 years of age also report high rates of loneliness, while people in de facto relationships reported they were lonelier than people in other relationship types.
People with poorer health were also more likely to report higher rates of emotional loneliness and a lack of social support.
The consequences of loneliness are significant, with studies showing it can be as damaging to an individual’s long-term health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
It is therefore time Australia took the challenge to end its epidemic of loneliness.
At Neighbour Day, we believe that we can all take steps to help address this loneliness crisis and the best place to start is by reaching out to our neighbours and to help them find connections in our local communities.
We are enlisting the help of our Neighbour Day Ambassadors to provide some inspiration on how you can take on the Loneliness Challenge and we will be providing some tips of our own via social media, right through the month of March, in the lead up to Neighbour Day on 31 March 2019.
So check out our social media posts each day for some inspiration or come up with your own ideas and share them with us. We’d love to hear about your stories of connection with your local community and how neighbours can work together to support people out of loneliness.
Personally, I know that for my partner and I, the trials associated with entering parenthood for the first time just a couple of years ago tested even the strongest of our social connections, and if it not for a number of understanding and supportive neighbours, as well as our dedicated family and friends, our townhouse could easily have felt like a prison as we grappled with the highs and lows of bringing home a newborn. Small gestures as simple as a plate of home-baked cinnamon scrolls, or even a friendly reassurance over the fence that the cries of our newborn were not in fact keeping everyone on the street awake, were enough to keep us going on some of the longest days!
Connection can be simple like this, but is so important and for this reason I hope everyone will rise to the Neighbour Day Loneliness Challenge in 2019!
Nick Tebbey is National Executive Officer of Relationships Australia
Connecting neighbours, one hobby at a time
By Gina Olivieri
22 February, 2019
What do meditation, gardening, picking up rubbish, craft, reducing food waste, dancing, reading, writing, and happiness all have in common?
They are all hobbies you can pursue within walking distance and at no cost in my neighbourhood!
No, I don’t live in a hip inner-city cultural hub, but rather in a riverside suburb 12km from Hobart’s CBD. And the reason all these activities are available close by may surprise you…
Back in February, I had an idea – what if people in my neighbourhood shared their hobbies with one another, and created their own, local versions of clubs they’d like to join? I wonder how many people would like to learn something new and meet new people, but lack the money, or the time to travel into town to do it?
And so, Hobby Exchange was born. I made a flyer, dropped it into all the letterboxes in my neighbourhood, and started talking to people about it. I roped some friends into helping me, we booked the local sailing club, and ran the event one rainy Sunday afternoon.
At the event, we introduced ourselves and shared some of the things we like to do, and the things we would like to do in future. I encouraged people to treat the term “hobby” very loosely – it could really be anything they wanted to do with others, whether that was playing chess, tending a garden, or sharing advice on raising small children.
Eighteen people attended, and 10 groups were created. I am pleased to report that neighbours are now meditating together, talking about ways to be happier, sharing their gardening goals, sharing compost buckets, hosting book club, and have hauled six bags of rubbish from the beach.
Last night, 31 neighbours crammed into the living room of a neighbour’s home to listen to Erica play the piano, to hear John talk about his research into dreams, and to share uplifting news (and great food!) at “Refresh”, a monthly event started over ten years ago but re-formed from Hobby Exchange.
Knowing my neighbours – not just their names but their passions, struggles and wisdom – makes my neighbourhood feel like a warm, safe and enriching place to live.
Is there a hobby you would like to pursue locally? Could a Hobby Exchange help you do that?
Why not give it a try?
Gina is part of the organising team for her neighbourhood’s Neighbour Day event, and was the Tell Us Your Story winner for Tasmania.
Finding companionship in volunteering
By Sonia Oke, Conservation Volunteers Australia and New Zealand
15 February, 2019
Every year, tens of thousands of people volunteer across Australia to help to conserve special places.
If you asked someone what they think Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) is about, they’d probably tell you that it’s about volunteers doing good things for the environment – and don’t get me wrong – it really is!
But it’s much more than that.
What we don’t always talk about is the social side.
It can be awkward or difficult sometimes as an adult to get to know new people. I know this personally from when I relocated from Adelaide to Melbourne seven years ago. But having a task, some activity to do, working side by side in the outdoors with others, sharing a common goal – all of that creates connections. Meaningful connections.
Chatting (or just listening) whilst doing something purposeful is socially easier for many. Working shoulder to shoulder with new people is less confronting for some rather than sitting down and trying to get to know people face to face.
I have seen the most unlikely friendships forged and kindness shown by volunteers helping each other out.
I recall on one project I was supervising a team of both international and local volunteers with varying levels of English speaking. In the morning as the volunteers were planting trees I noticed they were grouping together according to where they were from. As we broke for lunch I pulled out my favourite childhood card game – Uno. Everyone’s eyes lit up and what proceeded was the funniest game of Uno I have ever played. Not everyone could speak English, but everyone knew how to play Uno.
After finding this common interest, the afternoon flew by with what went from a group of individual volunteers becoming a cohesive team, working together to complete planting the trees.
I asked one of our long term volunteers what they thought CVA was about and this is what they said, “Really it’s about people sharing meaningful experiences together in the outdoors. And as a result of all that social connection and fun (and dirt and sweat!), the environment is of course the ultimate beneficiary. Everyone wins!”
And I think she’s right.
At the end of the day, we all want to be good people, do good for the planet, and have people in our life we can play a fun game of Uno with.
Sonia has led volunteer teams for CVA in Australia and overseas, working in many roles over 14-years including partnerships, business development, marketing and communications. She is now on the senior leadership team for Conservation Volunteers.
Pedaling our way to a more connected neighbourhood
By Gina Olivieri
8 February, 2019
Organising a Neighbour Day event is as easy as riding a bike! Or at least, it would have been, had the weather forecast not threatened to destroy our event with storms, gale-force winds and rain.
“I think we should cancel”, I said.
“Let’s make the call on Sunday morning,” said Mel, “the forecast has a sunshine symbol at 4pm.”
“I dunno, there’s also a lightning symbol at 3pm and a rainy cloud at 5pm.”
And so it went on, back and forth. After all our planning, would we get rained out?
Luckily we decided to go ahead, with a scaled-down event that ended up taking place in glorious sunshine. We ditched the bean bags, the Corn Hole games and hot drinks, sticking with a Scavenger Hunt and Pedal-Powered Smoothie Bike as our drawcards.
You read that right. A pedal-powered smoothie bike. Borrowed from a local high school, the bike was a hit, with neighbourhood kids taking turns whizzing up healthy drinks. The apple, banana and berry smoothies were delicious; the apple juice was made with apples donated from neighbours’ trees, the berries came from Cait’s garden, and the bananas were left over from the recent Zero Waste Expo.
Thirty neighbours showed up for a chat, a smoothie and a stroll around the neighbourhood with their kids, spotting the local landmarks in the Scavenger Hunt. About half our attendees were young people, and it’s so nice being able to say hi and call them by name as I see them zooming about on scooters or playing in front yards now.
If you have never run a Neighbour Day event, why not give it a go next year? Or find any old excuse for a get-together with your neighbours. I think you will be surprised at how much people want to connect and after all, it is really as easy as riding a bike!
Gina was part of the organising team for her local Neighbour Day, and the Tell Us Your Story winner for Tasmania.
Neighbour Day 2019 – Tell Us Your Story
By Sam Robinson, Neighbour Day Campaign Manager
1 February, 2019
One of the things we look forward to most in the Neighbour Day office each year is when we hear from you – when you send in your stories about small kindnesses, great gestures of neighbourly spirit, hilarious tales and fond remembrances of your wonderful neighbours, and grand re-telling’s of how you celebrated Neighbour Day with those in your community.
For our Tell Us Your Story Competition this year we are doing things a little differently. We are asking you to share your stories with us before Neighbour Day so we can run your stories in the lead up to Sunday 31 March to help inspire others to get involved.
Our theme for Neighbour Day this year is ‘loneliness – what neighbours can do to create connections’ and we are keen to hear your stories of how you have created neighbourly connections and how those connections have gone some way to helping end loneliness in your neighbourhood.
Entries are now open for the Tell Us Your Story competition on the Neighbour Day website. So get writing – tell us your story in 250 words or less and you will be in the running for state, territory and national prizes.
Competition winners will be announced on Friday 1 March, 2019 and each state and territory winner will be awarded a $100 prize, with the overall national winner taking home $400.
For some inspiration, why don’t you read some of the winning stories from Neighbour Day 2018 winning stories.
Neighbour Day 2019 – Loneliness – what neighbours can do to create connections
By Sam Robinson, Neighbour Day Campaign Manager
25 January, 2019
The Beatles asked many years ago, “All the lonely people where do they all come from?” We probably thought then and even now, that loneliness was something that other people suffered from.
Not me though.
Well, yes me.
When I moved from a big city to a country town in regional NSW over 12 years ago I knew no-one except my new husband and his two teenage kids. I travelled a lot with my work and the few days each week when I was at home, I didn’t really connect with those in my neighbourhood or town.
Leaving close friendships and my community behind was tough and despite my happiness to be newly married and very much in love, it took me some time to realise that I was also very lonely.
I didn’t do anything for a few years to remedy my situation, because I was supposed to be happy, wasn’t I? How could I be lonely?
When we are thirsty it’s a signal that we need to drink water, and when we are lonely that indicates the need to connect with others, and in a meaningful way.
So that’s what I did. It took some courage and time. I didn’t like the stigma I felt that loneliness seemed to have. I reached out and made small connections. We have a few chooks, so I dropped off some spare eggs with friendly notes to my neighbours, shared our garden veggies when we had a surplus, and joined the local P and C at the high school.
The turning event was when I heard that my elderly neighbour had taken a fall and was in hospital with a broken hip. I had never really spoken to her and realised that I didn’t even know her surname. Small towns are great for that and the postmaster was able to help me out. I found her at the hospital and visited her a few times, and checked in every few days since she has been back at home, chatting, picking up shopping, dropping off a meal, laughing. She thanks me all the time, however I am so very grateful to her for her humour and friendship. Her injury brought all our neighbours together to support this lovely woman and one neighbour hosts a lunch every Sunday (she calls it their Neighbour Day) and they all play board games with much hilarity.
So who are these lonely people and where do they all come from?
We tend to think of lonely people as old, or single people living alone. But loneliness is experienced by people across the age and social spectrum, including young people, people living with their partners and families, and even people surrounded by others in the workplace. And sometimes me.
In 2019 our theme for Neighbour Day is ‘loneliness – what neighbours can do to create connections’. Building on the work done by Relationships Australia in 2018 to raise awareness of the loneliness crisis facing Australia, we will be exploring the important role neighbours can play in connecting people around them with their local community.
In February we will be asking for you to share with us your stories of how you helped create connections and end loneliness in your neighbourhood through our Tell Us Your Story competition.
In March we will be issuing a ‘Loneliness Challenge’ to all Australians. That is, we will be encouraging you to reach out to the vulnerable and lonely members of your community to create a connection. We will be asking you to commit to create a connection with your local community through one simple action each week. It might be as simple as saying hello across the back fence, or asking an elderly neighbour if there’s anything you can grab for them at the shops. It might be grander in scale, like organising a neighbourhood get together, or starting up a local sporting team, book or walking group. We will be encouraging you to take the initiative and think about those who live around you who might not be able to get out, or have friends or relatives close by who could do with some companionship or help.
Why have we chosen loneliness as our theme for 2019? In September 2018, as part of its 70th Anniversary celebrations, the organisation responsible for Neighbour Day, Relationships Australia, released new research on loneliness based on the results of the Household Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia Survey.
This research found that one in ten people lacking social support or connection and one in six are experiencing emotional loneliness, that is, they don’t have sufficient meaningful relationships in their lives to sustain and nurture them, particularly through difficult times. In addition, just under 1.5 million Australians are reporting that they’ve been lonely for a decade or more.
The research also found that particular groups in the community are particularly susceptible to loneliness, including single parents, particularly single fathers, with almost 40% of younger fathers reporting a lack of social support and more than 40% reporting emotional loneliness. Widowed men and women under 65 years of age also report high rates of loneliness, people in de facto relationships reported they were lonelier than people in other relationship types and people with poorer health were also more likely to report higher rates of emotional loneliness and a lack of social support.
We believe that Neighbour Day can help address this loneliness crisis. This year we are hoping to marshal the resources of our neighbourhoods to create new social connections, groups, teams, and friendships that might make those we live right alongside feel less isolated and alone.
For those people in the community who need to make social connections and find new social supports networks, neighbours really are an obvious, and convenient, place to start.
So, in 2019, why don’t you join in and help create connections with those experiencing loneliness in your neighbourhood.
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.
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.
National Executive Officer
And big fan of Neighbour Day