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Easy and Effortless Things to Improve Neighbourliness

posted this in Community, Free Play, Neighbourliness, Practical suggestions on 01/03/2013

How many of your neighbours do you say hello to when passing them on the street? How many of your neighbours could you greet by name? How many could you call on for a cup of sugar? A cup of tea? How many would you feel happy leaving your children with for an hour or so?

I was talking with my daughter the other day about where we live and she described it as a friendly place. When I asked her why, she said it was because people say hello and talk to each other on the streets and everyone knows each other.

I felt happy that she experiences her neighbourhood in this way because it was something I had as a child that made me feel safe and confident in my growing independence. When walking home from the shops or from school on my own or with friends, I felt more sure of myself knowing there were people I could call on if I needed anything.

Has neighbourliness changed in the past few decades?

There are lots of factors involved in what might be called the erosion of neighbourliness. It’s hard to pinpoint one single factor, but increased traffic and pollution, changes in family and work patterns and stranger danger are often discussed as reasons that children are not playing out like they used to or why we ‘keep ourselves to ourselves’.

Where children’s literature, film and television used to have children playing out and going on adventures without adult supervision, a friend of mine who writes books for children tells me now that you must have the parents in the story, ‘in the frame’.

And in film ‘Neighbours from Hell’ stories have some draw on the telly and cinema.

Do these representations of neighbours accurately reflect our lived reality in a balanced way or do they promote unproductive fear and distrust? What other stories can we tell to restore some balance? What other realities can we create that might give neighbourliness better airplay?

Easy and Effortless Suggestions

Since having children, I’ve become more and more aware of my own street. I have been trying to live there in such a way as to ensure my children have a positive experience, feel able to make balanced, intuitive judgements about strangers and are able to get about the neighbourhood on their own. It’s been my experience that the actions required to grow a sense of neighbourliness are perhaps smaller than we think. What are these easy and effortless things? I’d like to offer some here:

Open the front door. This is your home. Observe your street or estate, its rhythms and inhabitants.

Smile and say hello to neighbours and passers-by. Have a chat if they stop. Your children will learn a lot from seeing you interact with others and you will get to know who is around.

Leave your front door open.

If you are in the house during the day and feel secure enough to do this, it sends a signal to neighbours and passers-by that you are at home and that there are ‘eyes on the street’, which can make the area feel safer and more lived-in.

Bring a chair and sit out in front. Beat the retreat!

Have cup of tea or a newspaper if it helps you feel more comfortable. Traffic volume and speed often dominate our experience of our surroundings and send us further into the house. It is a courageous, even political act to simply reclaim some of the space in front of where you live.

Allow your children to play in the front garden or within an agreed area of the pavement or neighbourhood.

Bring your younger children out to play in front of your house or flat. As confidence grows or if they are older, you could be inside with the front door open and check on them from time to time. Chalks and bubbles are great for keeping them closer to home – or bring their favourite toys. Scooters, roller skates and bikes work well on the pavement.

The Importance of Small Things

You have probably noticed that these are not extraordinary actions by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, they are things you are probably already doing or can do without much effort. You don’t need me to tell you.

What you may not know, though, is that these small actions inspire other small actions by other neighbours. A growing number of people across the city are approaching their streets in this way and their actions are fast positioning Bristol as a beacon city for street play in the UK and beyond. The cumulative effect of these actions is having an impact on some of the most pressing challenges to children’s health and wellbeing.

The story of the power of small actions to inspire other actions is repeated again and again on the pages of the Playing Out Facebook group and website and over kitchen tables across Bristol and now in other cities across the UK.

And they all begin with opening the front door…

This post was first published in Bristol 24/7.  Read an updated version of Amy’s Easy and Effortless Things.

 

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