‘Next Steps’ - a regular feature from our HumanKind project - focuses on how the public can take action to make a difference in society.
With loneliness being a very real problem for millions of people, it seems counterintuitive that two thirds of Brits barely know their neighbours, describing them as “strangers”. Almost three quarters (73%) don’t know their neighbours’ names and half don’t feel part of a ‘neighbourly community’, a recent survey by Skipton Building Society revealed.
Relate counsellor Dee Holmes believes there are a few reasons why this has happened. Firstly, it could be down to a growing independent streak among the public, who increasingly have “a fear of putting upon people”.
There’s also a “reserve” among some people, she says. “They don’t want to be too friendly with their neighbours in case they start dropping in all the time. We’re worried that if we let the boundary go a bit, we won’t be able to keep it.”
But being a good neighbour doesn’t have to mean being joined at the hip, here Holmes shares her tips for an amicable relationship.
Break the ice
When someone moves into your street, it’s a great time to break the ice: invite them for a cup of tea while their kettle is still packed in a box, take them a small moving in gift or just go over to their house and introduce yourself, says Holmes. If you miss moving in day, send them a ‘new home’ card.
“If you’re having a party, tell the neighbours,” says Holmes. “Inform people of what’s happening: let them know if you’re away, or if you need them to take in a parcel for you.” She says being respectful will often mean others treat you the same too. Next thing you know, they’ll be looking after your cat.
Holmes says space is a premium nowadays, as hundreds of us can be crammed into a street, but this can make people “territorial” of their space. “They try to clamp down on something straight away,” says Holmes.
Offering an example, the counsellor says a friend once blocked her neighbour’s drive briefly to drop something off. Before she could get back to her car, her neighbour had emerged from her house to moan about the fact her drive was blocked.
“You have to be tolerant,” says Holmes. “People will often complain about noisy children or someone’s BBQ, but actually it’s live and let live, isn’t it?”
Holmes wants us to stop fearing being seen as ‘nosy’ neighbours, as there’s nothing wrong with looking out for others. If you notice something looks dodgy or not quite right (like a van emptying the contents of your neighbour’s house or people lurking around) don’t be afraid to tell your neighbour what you saw.