'Friendly' and 'welcoming' are the terms used by 22-year-old migrant Roanna in describing New Zealanders upon her arrival in NZ more than four years ago. Such descriptors are a true testament to the NDA campaign belief that neighbourliness is simply a part of the kiwi DNA. For Roanna, Auckland’s multicultural make-up in itself provided an immediate sense of belonging.
Self-conscious and shy to be begin with, Roanna explains that adjusting to life in NZ was initially a little daunting. Loneliness, isolation, language barriers, and a struggle to know who to turn to for help could have made Roanna’s transition to New Zealand a difficult one. Fortunately for her she found that her eagerness to assimilate, combined with the generosity of spirit she encountered in both her local community and her church, made making NZ home considerably easier. It meant that every day encounters were opportunities for connection, such as her daily visit to the local bus stop. However, Roanna understands that for many migrants the transition to life in NZ may not be quite so smooth sailing.
For this reason Roanna is particularly sensitive to the needs of migrants. She points out, that for migrants, having a good relationship with their neighbours is critically important. This is especially true when it comes to seeking support for every day issues – Roanna believes that migrants would much prefer to speak to a friendly neighbour than to seek assistance over the phone from someone that they don't know. For many migrants they simply need to know that the help is available for them. It is because of this need that Roanna urges kiwis, regardless of their origin, to go out of their way and introduce themselves to those that are new to the area. Roanna goes as far to say that it is worth keeping an eye out for ‘for sale’ signs, and then making a point to meet the new occupants.
Roanna has become what can only be described as a passionate advocate for neighbourly connection. She is a part of a community group aimed at strengthening local community and happily promotes the events run by the group by door knocking in her immediate area. The reception she receives is very positive with an increasing number of people attending the events. Roanna states that the group aims to prioritise street-based events in the future, because as NDA has demonstrated, it is at the street level that community well-being is enhanced.
Roanna’s enthusiasm for local community is infectious. You cannot help but be energised by her call for every day kiwis to be 'the driving force’ in their local communities. Roanna believes that NDA provides the perfect opportunity for kick-starting such efforts. For her, it’s easy, it’s fun and it’s well worth the effort.
Maurice, affectionately known as ‘Opa’ by two little girls who once lived next door, would be considered by many, to be the ideal neighbour. So natural are his neighbourly tendencies that recalling his acts of neighbourly kindness was rather difficult – they are simply a natural extension of who he is. Whether it be lending his tools, trimming a neighbour’s hedge, offering storage space, collecting mail or offering a friendly wave and hello, Maurice embodies neighbourly kindness.
When asked about his various acts of generosity, Maurice explains that, for both him and his wife, it is simply a matter of assisting his neighbours where they have a need. He points out that you do not need ‘to live out of each other’s pockets in doing so’, rather you just need to make an effort, whatever that may be. At the very least, Maurice points out, it is well worth making an introduction and swapping numbers. As a result of his efforts Maurice maintains close relationships with his neighbours, even maintaining contact after a shift might relocate a family.
Maurice reflects that in times gone by it was second nature to speak to those across the fence. He acknowledges that, nowadays, it is somewhat difficult to build and maintain a relationship with neighbours when so many residents are renting and as a result may be quite transient. He also agrees that, language barriers, or perceived cultural blocks may dissuade people from making the move out of their comfort zones. Maurice encourages kiwis to not let such factors deter them, after all, it is the cultural diversity of Aotearoa that adds richness to our relationships, providing us with experiences and relationships that might not otherwise be available to us.
Like Maurice, you might just find that a small amount of effort goes a long way to turning your street into a neighbourhood.
In a world made increasingly smaller by advances in technology, it is nice to come across people who value strong connections to their families and their communities. Tamati (Ngati Whatua) and his family are one example. He has lived in the same house in Glen Innes, Auckland, his entire life, a rarity in an increasingly transient city. He is in fact the 6th generation of his family to have called the area home. Tamati describes his heritage as being rich in contributing to the community with his mother having established the ‘Glenn Innes Family Centre’ over 36 years ago. This heritage has had a profound effect on his own attitude toward neighbourliness and whanaungatanga.
Tamati hopes that his own children will take the principles of neighbourliness and apply them to all situations they encounter in their daily lives and in doing so that they will honour the legacy those generations before them have passed on; acting as representatives of their neighbourhood, their community, their iwi and their country.
“By instilling these values within my own children, we will bring back a sense of community spirit that embraces manaakitanga (generosity), whakamana (respect), maioha (friendliness), and harikoa (laughter). My children will learn to give and not take, to be contributors not consumers. When we choose to no longer be passive consumers of the world we can then give, give, give. Neighbourhood is the platform from which to learn that.”
Tamati observes that many property owners erect trees and higher fences and in doing so create physical and mental barriers with their neighbours. Such a move, in Tamati’s view, simply reinforces disconnection and isolation. “In many communities, people have learnt how to survive isolated. We need to take down the fences and challenge the value we place on community”. Tamati is proud to say that for most homes on his street the literal lowering of fences and intentional bonding with those next door has enhanced community well-being, an especially important point when you consider the significant social challenges currently faced by his community.
Another important component of this is the recent “retreat from the street”. A term coined by David Engwicht of Australian-based Creative Communities. Tamati explains that many residents in modern communities have “retreated from the street into their back yards and ultimately into their homes”. Suburban streets that were once extensions of the home and consequently a celebration of community, for people of all ages, are now far too often empty of ‘community’. He believes that reversing that retreat builds the social life local neighbourhoods.
Tamati’s vision is to return front yards to being the playgrounds that they once were, to reverse the retreat and reclaim the streets. Tamati understands this will only be achieved via buy-in from his community. Neighbours Day, Tamati believes, provides the ideal opportunity to get his neighbours on board with this. “It gives us a chance to not just ‘talk neighbourhood’ but to ‘do neighbourhood’, to practice whakawhanaungatanga. If we do this our sense of community will be strengthened and we will ensure our children carry on the legacy that has been given to us”.
For Louisa’s mum, her clothes line provided a fortuitous friendship opportunity. It was there that she met Chris, her neighbour, who also happened to be an expectant young mum. Common interests and a similar life season provided the nurturance for a friendship that would go on to span thirty years. So close was their friendship that they created a physical path connecting both properties. The friendship remains strong to this day with Chris still firmly established as a second mum to Louisa. In fact, Christmas is often celebrated together.
It is no surprise that this experience went on to influence the value Louisa herself places on connecting with neighbours. For Louisa, a neighbour presents a significant opportunity. It is, after all, possible that there is a friendship next door, just waiting to be established. It is in this spirit that Louisa openly seeks out opportunities to connect with those living in her neighbourhood. The arrival of a new neighbour, pregnant with her first child, provided such an opportunity. Acknowledging that new mums are often very isolated these days and that there is only so much support the local coffee group can provide, Louisa was keenly aware of the value of making an introduction with this neighbour, “it is always nice to know that you have support across the road if you need it”.
Agreeing that most people lead hectic lives that are not conducive to much chat time over the fence, Louisa stresses that the payoff is well worth the effort. She also understands the trepidation someone might have around meeting their neighbour. She confesses to having experienced nerves herself as she contemplated how she might approach her neighbour for that initial point of contact. Her tip to overcome this? Use fudge as an icebreaker. Judging by the response Louisa received, it seems to have worked.