How to get to know yours for a happier home and community
Moving to a new country for work can be extremely challenging but getting to know your neighbours is a great way to connect with your local community.
Moving to a new country for work can be extremely challenging. Expatriates must navigate new languages, currencies, social practices and workplace cultures and also leave behind their families, friends and support networks which can be an extremely isolating experience. As an adult, making true, dependable friends can be difficult and many people who relocate for work can find themselves lonely and disconnected from their communities and those around them.
Considering how compact modern day life is with many people living in apartment buildings, townhouses and close together in residential streets your neighbours are a great place to start when developing your social networks. After all, they usually only live a few metres away! Our lives are often so busy we don't get to connect with the people who live close to us. This is especially true in big cities where everyone comes and goes at different times and new neighbours move in and out often.
Before the internet and social media took over much of our socialising many people were extremely close with their neighbours. These days our modern, ever-changing society means life is divided for many of us. While we’re able to keep in touch with friends and family worldwide with a click of a mouse many of us don’t know or interact with those living closest to us.
Why be neighbourly?
Research has shown that getting to know your neighbours can help reduce many social issues affecting communities today such as social isolation, depression and substance abuse. For expatriates it’s even more important as moving to a new country often means leaving behind your support networks and making huge changes to your lifestyle.
Getting to know your neighbours is a great way to connect with your community and develop your sense of place, belonging and shared identity in your local area. Knowing your neighbours will help you to feel safe and “at home”, strengthen connections, build trust in your community and contribute to a happier neighbourhood for everyone.
If you need a favour or help during an event like a natural disaster your neighbours are closest so it makes sense that they will be your first point of contact. Knowing your neighbours and having their support makes for a more positive experience when you’re at home. They are also a great resource to have close by when you need help, support or just a friendly chat.
Connecting with your neighbours makes neighbourhoods more friendly, fun and safe, enhancing the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities within them. The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand is a charity that works towards creating a society where everyone enjoys positive mental health and wellbeing. Its research shows that getting to know your neighbours impacts extremely positively on an individual’s mental health and social connectedness. It also helps communities to feel safer and increases resilience.
“We can all make an effort to connect with our local communities,” says Mental Health Foundation Chief Executive Judi Clements. “Connected communities aren’t just stronger and more resilient; they’re healthier – mentally and physically.”
Taking the first step
So how do you get to know your neighbours? You don't have to make big gestures – small things can make a difference too. While it might seem daunting getting to know your neighbours, just start with taking the first step – saying hello. It might take a bit of confidence but the benefits will definitely pay off and the more you connect with people, the easier it becomes!
Here are some ideas to help get you started:
- If you regularly pass someone in your street start by smiling and saying hello, then find an opportunity to introduce yourself. Tell them a little bit about yourself and if you’re stuck on topics of conversation you can ask them what they like about the area. Are there any nice parks or good cafes nearby? If so you could invite them to go for a walk or a cup of coffee.
- If someone new moves in close by, make them feel welcome by introducing yourself and offering to help with any questions they might have about the local area. For example, you could offer information on when bins are collected and local facilities like shops and bus stops. If you’ve got the time taking a homemade treat like some baking is a great way to welcome new neighbours and make friends. Maybe they’ll return the favour!
- Look out for ways you can help your neighbours. Have you got some homegrown produce to spare? Are your neighbours doing maintenance and need help holding ladders or passing tools around? Are they going away and need someone to collect their mail or look after their pets? Doing things to help your neighbours is a great way to connect and means they’re likely to help you should you ever need it. Our neighbours are often our first port of call in times of need and knowing your neighbours creates a safer and more supportive environment for you and your family.
- Look out for opportunities to connect with people in your local community. Keep an eye out for activities organised by local community groups or residents’ associations, volunteer groups, exercise or activity classes and book groups. You can search for activities in your area online, in the local newspaper or by keeping an eye on notice boards or information displayed in local shops and cafes.
- For those based in New Zealand, Neighbourly is a great resource – sign up and add the details of your local area. Neighbourly will post you a letter of confirmation of your account and once you’ve confirmed your details you’ll have access to a variety of local neighbourhood groups, activities, events and news.
- Neighbours Day Aotearoa is a collective of New Zealand community organisations who focus on strengthening local communities and turning streets into neighbourhoods. Check out their website for more ideas on how to connect with your neighbours, online resources and information about Neighbours Day, a fun annual event that brings neighbours together.
As you can see, there are plenty of things you can to do make an initial connection with your neighbours. “The important thing is that you get out and say hello, whether that means meeting them for the first time or getting to know them better” says Neighbours Day Aotearoa project manager Ashlee Gross. “Feedback from previous Neighbours Day events has shown us that once people take the initial step, they are likely to continue connecting with their neighbours.”
People who practice neighbourliness year round contribute to stronger, healthier and more resilient communities and feel happier and healthier within them. Once you’ve met your neighbours, fostering the connection is easy.
You can invite them over for a hot drink or a meal (especially fun if you can share a delicious recipe from home!). You can also do things like organise a walking group or book club for your street. Do your neighbours have pets? How about organising a dog’s day out at the beach or a walk to your local park, walkway or waterfront? When the weather is nice, picnics, games and sports at your local park are a great way to get outside and enjoy each other’s company. Organising play dates for kids are fun for little ones and adults alike! Street parties and BBQs are also a great way to meet neighbours a little further afield and share something delicious.
No matter where you live; an apartment, a town house, in a residential suburb or rurally, your neighbours are a great resource and you can be a great resource to them too! It might seem strange getting to know them at first, but once you’ve connected with your neighbours you’ll find your home environment a much more comfortable and happy place to be. Getting to know your neighbours will help you become more familiar with your local area – they’ll be able to share tips and insights into living well in your community and getting the most from the area, like where to get the best coffee or which playgrounds are best for kids.