Yesterday was European Neighbour’s Day. I know about this because I read The Guardian’s website! It was a timely then, that yesterday I spent a morning with the neighbour of one of the people that I work with.
We’ve met a number of times and I’d say she and the community where she lives, epitomises good neighbourliness in every sense.
Anne (names changed!) lived on the same estate since she was born (she’s now well into her 80s). She never married and has no children. She is the youngest child of 7 and has out-survived all her siblings. Her nieces and nephews are far away and out of the city.
Her neighbours though, amongst themselves, ensured she was getting good hot meals to eat regularly. They’d take her out for walks in the area, just go and keep her company, sort out her bills and do her grocery shopping.
She was well known to everyone in the area.
When a young lad saw some smoke coming from her window, he ran for her neighbour (who had a key) to go in and put out the small electrical fire she hadn’t noticed.
When she got confused and wandered up to the local church in the evening, some of the local teenagers took her back home and kept an eye on her.
When she went to the local shop and forgot to take enough money, the shopkeeper would tend to turn a blind eye because he didn’t want to see her wanting for anything.
And this might sound like the idyllic rural village scenario. But this is inner city London.
When Anne moved into residential care, because she could no longer manage at home, she was missed in the community. She is visited regularly by the same neighbours who visited her at home although less regularly.
Kevin Harris, who wrote the Guardian piece, writes, in this own blog that
‘Neighbouring is now discretionary and requires a deliberate effort.’
Perhaps the ‘deliberate effort’ is based on the type of community and the longevity of it. I like to think it can sometimes be spontaneous though. I wonder if it is also, at least in cities, based somewhat on prosperity – or lack of it. The most overwhelming displays of community and neighbourliness that I have witnessed has tended to be within public housing.
Perhaps there is something more evident in the middle-class mind about neighbours being people to compete with or ‘my home being my castle’ attitudes where people built moats in their minds to keep ‘strangers’ out.
I don’t know my own neighbours except in passing, but I’ve lived in the place I am now for three years roughly. I can’t in all honesty say I’ve made any deliberate efforts apart from smiling and greeting – but the responses I have received make me think that were any effort extended, the reaction would be positive.
Yesterday, I went to Anne’s house with one of her neighbours to pack up the property. We took her clothes, her papers and.. her favourite armchair.. to the residential home where she was living.
As I was moving, people came from their houses to ask about what we were taking and mostly were concerned about Anne. They told me stories about her and how she had been in the past. I felt pangs as I took her keys back to the housing office yesterday, knowing I was giving up one part of her but to be living amongst people who have so much care and warmth is something that can only instil positive thoughts and in a world of bad news stories and negative press, it’s comforting to see the strength of community in action.
I like the idea of local solidarity. I’ve seen it and it works!