I was lucky to grow up in the 80s in rural Nelson within a community of very connected neighbours. I’d head to the neighbour’s house after school, ride bikes with my neighbourhood friends, babysit for other neighbours’ kids, and walk the neighbourhood dogs. As a family we frequently socialised with our neighbours – from casual over-the-fence chinwags to our annual fireworks get-togethers.
Looking back, neighbour relationships were a fundamental part of my upbringing. However it was only after a few months of living in my first home that I stopped to consider what a great neighbourhood I grew up in. I became aware that I hadn’t met any of my neighbours. I didn’t see them around much and didn’t feel bold enough to bowl around to introduce myself. I knew it was important to connect locally, but to be honest I found it difficult to make the first move.
A chat over a beer with fellow Neighbourly co-founder Shane Bradley got me thinking more about the departure of our communities from the ones we grew up in. We launched Neighbourly as a way to re-engage people with their neighbourhoods, to inspire neighbour-to-neighbour connections, and to break down barriers that may have formed over the past couple of decades.
In today’s society there are many factors that can get in the way of us being part of a local community; our busy lives, the influence of internet and digital mobility, high fences, more working parents, an increasingly transient society, a greater desire for privacy, high car usage, isolation, language barriers, or a simply a lack of confidence to take the first step to meet a neighbour.
But I believe our communities are worth putting effort into. Ultimately, living in a connected and caring neighbourhood positively affects our well-being because when people know each other it fosters a sense of belonging and societal contribution. Neighbourhoods are full of possibilities that lay dormant when we’re disconnected from the folks next door. When neighbours take time to connect, we can help reduce isolation, break down prejudice and better appreciate diversity, share resources, welcome new residents and work creatively together to overcome local issues.
Ultimately, strong neighbourhoods help ensure our children are safe, and, like me, have the opportunity to enjoy playful locally-based childhoods.
In my childhood a connected neighbourhood was part of everyday life. It wasn’t something we consciously thought about; we simply had an awareness of who our neighbours were. We often say that our neighbourhoods were the original social network, around long before Facebook and Twitter. Our desire to share what’s important to us, support one another, and meet others nearby is at the core of who we are as New Zealanders.
There are many things you and I can do to help create a ‘culture of connection’ to build a sense of community in our own neighbourhood. This is where Neighbourly.co.nz comes in.
Over the past six months we’ve seen members use the site in a variety of ways to build better neighbour relationships through saying hello, organising street parties, asking neighbours for help, sharing a recommendation about a neighbour’s service, arranging play dates for local kids, sharing home-grown produce, swapping recipes, and much, much more.
Personally I’ve found a fantastic dog walker for my puppy and recently joined 30 of my neighbours for pre-Christmas drinks.
After just eight months, Neighbourly has helped connect thousands of neighbours and raise awareness of the importance of local community relationships. We hope it will play a key part in creating a noticeable positive difference in every New Zealand neighbourhood. Long term, if it drives connection between neighbours online into the ‘real world’ then we’ll have achieved what we set out to achieve.
Casey is the founder of Neighbourly.co.nz – a free and private neighbourhood website for New Zealand communities that creates an easy way for residents to talk and share online.
Neighbours use the site to organise community events, share crime and safety matters, highlight what they like about their neighbourhood or what their neighbourhood needs, form street groups, recommend local services, support fellow residents, plan street parties, discuss council matters, sell, giveaway, borrow or loan items and even find lost pets.
Neighbourly.co.nz launched in June 2014 and now has over 60,000 households signed up across 1,400 suburbs.