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
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.
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