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Kiwis get together on neighbours day

Neighbours in Highbury in Wellington had a street barbeque. "We sketched out a (not-to-scale) map of the neighbourhood streets and got people to stand where their house would be," says a neighbour.

Move over flash mobs, neighbourhood days are here.

A concept that started some 30 years ago in Paris spread to the rest of the Europe, encompassing 30 countries, and the latest addition is New Zealand.

New Zealand’s inaugural celebration of neighbourliness was spread over March and April, when as many as 215 neighbourhoods shared a laugh with their neighbours.

“It’s been great this year to see residents, community organisations and groups, local Councils, authorities, and businesses coming together to support this vision”, says Rebecca Harrington, LIFEWISE project team member and founder of the Know Your Neighbours project on Auckland’s North Shore which was the beginning of Neighbours Day in New Zealand. LIFEWISE is a key partner.

Neighbours in Highbury in Wellington had a street barbeque. "We sketched out a (not-to-scale) map of the neighbourhood streets and got people to stand where their house would be," says a neighbour.

Internationally, neighbours day is celebrated on a larger scale, albeit with different names. For example, one million neighbours in the UK now share lunch for the UK’s annual Big Lunch. Similarly, Australia’s Neighbour Day is celebrated in big numbers each year on the last Sunday in March.

New Zealand’s first Neighbours Day was held in Auckland in 2009, but it was not until last month (March 2011) that Neighbours Day Aotearoa took the event nationwide, building on the successful Auckland Neighbours Day organised by LIFEWISE and supported by Inspiring Communities and others.

Roundabout Meadowood Team on Neighbours Day

New Zealanders came out in big numbers to get to know their neighbours better. Many neighbours met each other for the first time on Neighbours Day, says Says Philip Smith from Preston Crescent in Dunedin. “We talked about how we can help each other in an emergency and we’ve since circulated a list of contact numbers and emails. Our neighbours are keen to meet again!”

Some neighbourhoods even closed their dead-end streets to celebrate. “We blocked off the cul de sac and had a barbeque in the middle of the road, plus balloons on half the lampposts in the street to advertise it,” say Marion and David from Auckland’s Westmere. “Everyone brought food and drink to share. As it was the inorganic collection the following week we even had sofas to sit on!

“Having the street blocked off enabled the children to have races on their three wheeler bikes and scooters, circling round the adults, who were in the middle of the street. We also had chalk drawings on the road.”

But what’s the benefit of such events apart from having lots of fun? “We hope it will be a catalyst for building stronger neighbourhoods every day. We hope this will become an annual celebration and ultimately an everyday part of our Kiwi culture, which will have a positive impact on our communities long term.”

Agrees John McCarthy, General Manager LIFEWISE “Knowing our neighbours is one of the best antidotes to many social concerns, especially the isolation being experienced by both young and older people in New Zealand. “Having a social worker on every street is not the cure for social isolation. Strong, safe, respectful, fun neighbourhoods are what we need more of and that’s what Neighbours Day Aotearoa is all about.”

“Belonging to a positive local community is one of our most basic needs and people often say its part of being Kiwi, but many say that has been lost in recent years. They would like to get back but they just don’t know how to do it. We know that people who know their neighbours feel safer at home.”

Mary-Jane Rivers of Inspiring Communities says the communities the organisation is connected to have many inspiring anecdotes of the power of neighbourliness.

“We hope that those who are already great neighbours, or are learning about being more active in their neighbourhoods, will share their stories and ideas and inspire those who wanting to take a first step.”

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