50 ways to feel more at home

we all need a place to call home, and that sense of be­long­ing should in­clude the neigh­bour­hood around us. whether you’re start­ing out rent­ing or you’ve in­vested in bricks and mor­tar, there’s plenty you can do to con­nect with oth­ers, find your place in a c

Good - - FRONT PAGE - Skye Wishart shares some ideas

Shy­ness, cul­tural dif­fer­ences and a de­sire for pri­vacy can pre­vent us from forg­ing links with those we live along­side, but a lit­tle ef­fort to be neigh­bourly can have sur­pris­ing ben­e­fits. It’s a bonus if you be­come friends, but at least you’ll know who’s liv­ing over the fence. It’s bet­ter for you, too – ac­cord­ing to so­cial neu­ro­sci­en­tist Pro­fes­sor John Ca­cioppo, who co-wrote the 2008 book Lone­li­ness, a sense of isolation dis­rupts our think­ing, willpower and im­mune sys­tem, and can be as dam­ag­ing as obe­sity or smok­ing.

Throw a party We’d been flat­ting on the same street for a cou­ple of years, a cul-de-sac leading to Taka­puna Beach, in Auck­land. While we’d say hi to our neigh­bours, mostly well-off fam­i­lies or el­derly people, we never knew who re­ally lived be­hind all those high walls.

So my flat­mates and I in­vited our neigh­bours to a potluck bar­beque. There was a huge turnout – who knew so many per­son­al­i­ties lived on our street! Some old-timers said people down the road used to have street bar­beque, but they’d moved on and no-one else started them up again.

I re­alised some­times neigh­bours do want to hang out but they need an ini­tia­tor. It was just a shame we took so long to step into that role.

Gather spare fruit Ini­tia­tives such as Com­mu­nity Fruit Havest­ing, cur­rently in 14 com­mu­ni­ties around New Zealand, fa­cil­i­tate the shar­ing of fruit from back­yards, or­chards and pub­lic spa­ces. Com­mu­nity Fruit Havest­ing mem­bers reg­is­ter their trees via Face­book, vol­un­teer­ing to pick or re­ceive fruit for their own char­ity or­gan­i­sa­tion. The fruit is shared with the owner of the fruit tree and the re­main­der dis­trib­uted to char­i­ties and food­banks; or the fruit is made into jams and chut­neys which are then do­nated or sold for fundrais­ing. There are many sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives around the world, donat­ing to char­ity and pre­vent­ing fresh fruit from go­ing to waste. See www.face­book.com/pick­fruit for more.

Trust oth­ers When the chil­dren of Good edi­tor Sarah Heeringa be­gan rid­ing their bikes around the block to pri­mary school, she and her hus­band dropped a flyer in let­ter­boxes along the way with a pic­ture of their kids, de­tails of their cy­cle route and a friendly re­quest: ‘Please look out for our kids!’

“If you can trust the people in your neigh­bour­hood to do the right thing, it makes it eas­ier to give your kids the kind of free­dom to roam that we en­joyed as chil­dren,” says Sarah. “A month or so later when my daugh­ter fell off her bike and landed weep­ing in the gut­ter, one friendly lo­cal stopped to help her right her bike, while an­other lady fetched plas­ters and a glass of wa­ter. It was old-fash­ioned neigh­bourli­ness at its best.”

Join a res­i­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tion

Dif­fer­ent neigh­bour­hoods have a dif­fer­ent feel, and some­times just mov­ing a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres down the road can seem like mov­ing is­lands, as writer Gretchen Car­roll dis­cov­ered.

“Two years ago I moved across town from a sub­urb with a strong com­mu­nity vibe to the east­ern sub­urb of Mead­ow­bank, which seemed to lack that en­ergy. Soon af­ter, I no­ticed in our sub­ur­ban news­pa­per that lo­cal mother Ruth Mack­in­tosh was call­ing for people in­ter­ested in start­ing up a res­i­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tion.

“Along with a flyer drop, this ar­ti­cle at­tracted about 30 of us to the first meet­ing. From this, the Mead­ow­bank and St Johns Res­i­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion was born, com­plete with a com­mit­tee and monthly meet­ings.”

Res­i­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tions are grass-roots af­fairs. “They’re not fo­cussed on one kindy or school – it’s from birth to death. They con­nect in­di­vid­u­als, or­gan­i­sa­tions and groups,” says Ruth, now pres­i­dent of that lo­cal as­so­ci­a­tion. Some stem from a sin­gle is­sue fac­ing the neigh­bour­hood; oth­ers, such as Mead­ow­bank, come from a de­sire to fos­ter com­mu­nity spirit.

Start by defin­ing your con­sti­tu­tion, and be sure to ap­ply to the Com­pa­nies Of­fice to be­come in­cor­po­rated so your as­so­ci­a­tion can re­ceive fund­ing. Grants from the coun­cil and businesses can pay for fly­ers, event costs, re­fresh­ments and meet­ing venue hireage. Res­i­dents can also make do­na­tions.

The as­so­ci­a­tion held a launch event with the mayor as speaker; hosted Safer Com­mu­ni­ties and Civil De­fence evenings; and pro­moted na­tional events such as Neigh­bours Day. Their Face­book page fea­tures lo­cals, is­sues and businesses in the news, up­com­ing events and other use­ful in­for­ma­tion.

As­so­ci­a­tions make sub­mis­sions to coun­cil on plans and en­cour­age in­di­vid­u­als to do the same, which is why coun­cil mem­bers value them and will at­tend meet­ings. As­so­ci­a­tions play a valu­able role in prompt­ing feed­back and dis­sem­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion to res­i­dents who other­wise might be un­aware of changes in the wind.

Many ar­eas al­ready have res­i­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tions, so it may be a case of join­ing and choos­ing your level of in­volve­ment. “In my ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s a re­ward­ing way to meet more neigh­bours and en­gage with the com­mu­nity,” says Gretchen.

Walk about Can your kids walk all or part of the way to school? A walk­ing school bus or bi­cy­cle train means you’ll get to know other lo­cals, and pro­vide a safe way for your kids to get to school and boost their daily ex­er­cise. Be­gin with just one or two keen fam­i­lies, do a test walk and de­cide how of­ten the group will walk to­gether. See www. walk­ingschool­bus.org for in­for­ma­tion.

In­vite the class Host a sim­ple end-of­term party for your child’s school class. Pho­to­copy a flyer for hand­ing out in class giv­ing con­tact de­tails, sug­ges­tions of what to bring and cru­cially, the time for ev­ery­one to be picked up!

Hold a joint garage sale Join forces with neigh­bours, and your sale will have greater pulling power – plus there’ll be plenty of time to chat.

Give a lit­tle Get in­volved with a lo­cal char­ity like Sal­va­tion Army or Women’s Refuge. See what re­sources are avail­able – for ex­am­ple, Kai­bosh in Welling­ton col­lab­o­rates with food re­tail­ers and pro­duc­ers to res­cue sur­plus food that’s fit to eat but not to sell. They in turn pass it on to com­mu­nity groups who work with in­di­vid­u­als or fam­i­lies who’re strug­gling fi­nan­cially. It’ll help your own mood too: many stud­ies have linked char­i­ta­ble giv­ing and in­creased, sus­tained hap­pi­ness.

Get book­ish Join or host a lo­cal book club with other lo­cal lit­er­ary types. Check out your li­brary for au­thor vis­its or other events – these are all good ex­cuses to get to­gether with oth­ers with very lit­tle or­gan­is­ing. Not a big reader? Then what about an ar­ti­cle group, or a recipe ex­change?

Meet the par­ents Col­lect the num­bers of the par­ents of your teenager’s friends and in­vite them over for a bar­beque or mid -win­ter potluck din­ner. It’s easy to fall out of touch with your teen’s cir­cle of friends, and many par­ents wel­come an op­por­tu­nity to meet other par­ents.

Be a groupie If you’re a stay-at-home mum, con­sider a day­time cof­fee group – hold­ing it at dif­fer­ent friends’ homes rather than a cafe can make it cheaper and more in­clu­sive. Share your love of craft by start­ing a stitch ‘n bitch group, or start a tra­di­tion of Jiff ‘n gins (be­ing care­ful not to drink the wrong liq­uid!) where you and friends take turns do­ing a clean­ing blitz at each other’s houses. Hang out in your lo­cal park Re­search shows there’s a re­la­tion­ship be­tween green space and higher lev­els of men­tal health. Re­search pub­lished this year in the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­search and Pub­lic Health an­a­lysed 229 Amer­i­can neigh­bour­hoods for veg­e­ta­tion cover. They com­pared this with re­sults from a sur­vey on res­i­dents’ de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and stress. It turns out, more trees equalled sig­nif­i­cantly more hap­pi­ness.

Dan­ish G-Plan side­board by Kofed Larsen, $1,890 from Europa, kim@eu­ropaan­tiques.co.nz; neck­laces from Pon­sonby Vin­tage & Retro; floor fur from Gor­geous Crea­tures; Ki­wiana lamp from Flot­sam & Jet­sam, www.flot­samand­jet­sam.co.nz

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