The Dean of ChristChurch Cathedral, Peter Beck, has talked about the worst of times (like the earthquakes in Christchurch) bringing out the best in people. All Black Dan Carter was recently quoted in the newspaper as saying, "If there can be any positive to come out of such a disaster, it's the fantastic sense of community which has built up." But that leads to the question: is a natural disaster a prerequisite for a community to really "pull together"?
The experts tell us that those communities that are connected and know their neighbours have a definite advantage in the event of a disaster. But I suspect that a number of us quite like the idea of "knowing our neighbours" without the threat of a disaster providing the incentive. There's nothing to stop "neighbours looking out for neighbours" even in good times. We're better off as a community when that does happen!
Ask people in Tawa what they like about this place, and a response along the lines of the "sense of community" is what you'll invariably get. And yet I think it's still possible in this community to not feel a sense of connectedness, to know hardly anyone else in the same neighbourhood.
There's a Neighbourhood Support group in Linden that has "kicked off again" recently. And there are a small number of streets in Tawa that hold their own street parties occasionally, perhaps in the run-up to Christmas. However the number of Neighbourhood Support groups is definitely smaller than it once was. We're busy people (or so we say) and it takes people with get-up-and-go to set up such a group and keep it going.
Would it be beneficial to us in Tawa to know our neighbours better, to have a greater sense of 'connectedness'? Or is that only important after a disaster strikes. People were asked to let me know what they thought. I didn't expect to be overwhelmed with responses, and I wasn't. But I was grateful to the dozen or so who did provide feedback. It's set out below.
- Malcolm Sparrow (July 2011)
FEEDBACK ON NEIGHBOURHOOD SUPPORT IN TAWA
"I'd be interested in a Neighbourhood Support Group or similar, but not keen on organising it myself. I live in street name supplied."
"We have a perfect lane for togetherness but I know the name of only one family in it from the time when our respective children mingled. Still close to them but feel very estranged from everybody else."
"Thank you for sending me your Tawalink ... and for mentioning our Neighbourhood Support Group. We had a great first meeting. There was a good attendance and in our ten households no-one had met everyone before. There was a real enthusiasm, I felt, for continuing to meet.
A little bit of personal experience ... We have lived for the greater part of our working lives in Papua New Guinea - a country about which we hear much more bad news than good news over the media. We can honestly say that we have never lived behind barbed-wire security fences, security guards or guard dogs. In fact in our last 8½ years in PNG, when living in the coastal town of Wewak, we didn't even have a boundary fence to our property. The secret - good neighbourly relationships. Our neighbours were our community support.
One Christmas, early on in our stay in Wewak, our Australian single lady colleague was 'hassled' by young drunk men around her flat below ours on Christmas Eve. She almost rang the police but refrained. She hit on the brilliant idea of us throwing a 'street party' for these same young men, all in their teens and twenties. We did this. We got a list of their names and wrote personal invitations. We asked them to come for a game, a video or a speaker and a meal in our garden. About 30 came. It was such a success, we did this every few months. The attitude of 'our street boys' changed dramatically. From then on we were 'Uncle' and 'Aunty' to them, even when they were high on drugs or drunk on alcohol.
So I'm a strong supporter of community togetherness."
"When we moved to Greenacres in January 1995, we got a knock on our door and the neighbours said we were the latest people to move in. One other family had recently moved in too so they were having a street barbecue to welcome us, which was really nice. It's a cul de sac, only 13 houses, so we all just drag small tables and chairs up to the top of the street and enjoy getting together. Those neighbours subsequently moved and we found ourselves organising the street barbecue. I encouraged another couple to help with this so our two families organise them now. In the winter, if someone moves in, we have a dessert evening at our home and those are very well attended too. If we have a spur-of-the-moment (good weather) barbie, we often have it in the other couple's backyard. We stay out quite late in the summer evenings. It's really nice, people come and go when they can.
I have a register of all the phone numbers, including mobile and email addresses. Everyone gets an updated copy when we meet. Even when we send an email invite we always put a note in the letter boxes as well. We all do try to look out for one another, help with transport to doctors, hospital, child-minding etc. The children in the street know they can come to any of our homes and feel safe.
If you live in a street of more than say 15 houses, you don't need to invite the whole street, just the houses that are close to yours on either side of the street."
"I liked your ideas about community groups, and supporting your neighbours, but in this day and age most families have two parents working. The reality is you don't see them until the weekend when most of them are tied up with family activities. In this instance it's good to try and get to know them in case of emergencies.”
"I started a Neighbour Support group in our street at the beginning of the year. We had an inaugural meeting at my house followed by a BBQ at the end of January. I have tried to keep the momentum going but with little success. We have quite a number of neighbours whose first language is not English and they do not appear keen to participate. I am having a meeting with my deputy next week to see what we can do to develop the group."
"I do like the idea of Neighbourhood Support groups. I remember in the 1990s when I lived in street name supplied, the local Police came and talked to us and helped us set up a Neighbourhood Watch group. We had quite a few meetings, pot luck dinners and BBQs over the years and it was great to meet and get to know our neighbours.
I now live in street name supplied and we have tried to have neighbourhood get-togethers - but there have only been two in the last 7 years! I'm not sure what the answer is, but interested to see what other residents' experiences are."
"Our street had a Neighbourhood Watch group for a while but it fragmented with changing residents."
"I feel that it would be useful to know the names of those people who live nearby and their house/phone numbers in case of misplaced mail, animals, etc. It might also be useful to know how many people are in each house in case of emergency. A printed sheet of info is about all that would be needed. Some years back we had an annual barbecue in our street. It worked for a couple of years till the organiser shifted away."
"I live at the end of street name supplied and so far we help each other (clear mailbox, water the plants, etc) but it is not an organised one. I would love to have a Neighbourhood Support Group in our street."
"I believe it is very benefical for us in Tawa to know our neighbours better and to have a great sense of connectedness before any disaster strikes, and I think it is never too late to start now. [Being disabled] there is one thing I have been thinking about doing and that is to make a leaflet about myself explaining what I can do and can't do if a disaster strikes. I will point out what neighbours should look out for and what to listen out for if they come to check me out during a disaster. I have decided to have a strong good whistle that I can use to connect during a disaster."
"Yes, we agree that knowing your neighbours is very important. We have irregular get-togethers with our surrounding neighbours in our street (instigated in fact by our next door neighbours who have since moved out-of-town). These are anything from a backyard BBQ in summer to afternoon tea on a winter's afternoon - about 10 houses. It’s very reassuring, especially for the parents of little ones, to know there is someone nearby to lend a hand if needed."
FROM A TAWA CLUB
"Following our involvement assisting the Red Cross in Christchurch, we have become very aware of the need for community support. Neighbourhood Support was, until a few years ago, very active in Tawa. Our Club therefore wishes to become involved in promoting Neighbourhood Support groups, thus enhancing the social capital within Tawa."
ON THE NEIGHBOURHOOD SUPPORT WEBSITE
Neighbourhood Support Groups enable people to share information, ideas and insights.
A Neighbourhood Support Group will:
- Encourage neighbours to talk to each other
- Share information that will help reduce the risk and fear of crime
- Help foster a sense of community spirit, where everyone is respected and valued
- Educate and empower neighbours to take responsibility for their own safety
- Identify the needs of neighbours and ways to assist each other
- Identify the strengths and skills of neighbours to contribute to solving local problems
- Minimise burglaries and car crime in the local area
- Reduce graffiti, vandalism, violence and disorder
- Support victims of crime
- Enhance the safety features and appearance of the neighbourhood
- Decide on ways to handle any civil emergencies that may occur
- Know when and how to contact Police, other emergency services or support agencies
- Liaise and co-operate with other community groups
Tips for Neighbours' Day in Tawa
Neighbours' Weekend in Tawa