As a very young child I can remember my family knowing all the different residents on our street and even the streets surrounding. Neighbours would all go to the same church, look after each other’s cats, know each other’s business, and bring dinners to those who looked a bit scrawny. However, even in Northern Ireland where pastures are always green, this just does not seem to happen as much anymore.
Do neighbours these days still become good friends?
When I was seven the arrival of my baby brother meant my family moved to about 30 minutes outside Belfast to a bigger house and a quieter neighbourhood. They still live there today and although we have known a few families well in that street, in comparison to our previous neighbourhood, people just seem to be less concerned in general with interacting with one another unless their kids happen to become friends – and even then parents rarely interact.
There are loads of studies that have aimed to answer the question of why this pattern is occurring so quickly in our country. Some say it’s because of all our new technology and gadgets which cause us no longer to encounter one another while ‘hanging out the washing’, some because we are more individualistic and don’t like to accept help, others due to an increase in rented properties and commuters, and others because we simply have too much going on in our lives; for example ‘woman to woman’ neighbourliness is no longer as common because most women now work.
Whatever the reason and whatever the large-scale effects on society (which are vast)… I think it is very sad. A glimpse of neighbourliness from my year of living in the resident community of Durham has left me eager to be that keen (and probably annoying) neighbour who wants nothing more than to be old-fashioned and get back to some good quality face-to-face time with those living around me.
We lived as four Christian girls on a street of terrace houses were neighbourliness to some extent was still alive. Many on the street would sit outside their front doors in the summer sun and chat to each other about the trivial gossip of the world. It was delightful. The four of us decided we wanted to be an intentional part of this community and so we regularly knocked on all the doors of the street either with a polite hello, a Christmas biscuit, a cooked dinner, or even once… a Disney princess bin. What came out of this was phenomenal – we would sit on the doorstep entertaining the children of the street with games and music, we knew most of the street by name, and word got around that there were girls on the street would were welcoming and trustworthy.
Having been the least keen at the beginning of the year to get stuck into getting to know the neighbours (due to laziness, fear of rejection or looking stupid, and desire ‘not to bother the neighbours’), I was really challenged by my enthusiastic housemates. I now firmly think that it is our job as Christians to be those annoying neighbours who bake cookies like ‘desperate housewives’, coo over the babies next door, and start those polite conversations which if regular can and do develop real relationships.
It’s working in some places (like Durham). Neighbourliness is still alive and people do still want it! We just need to knock and be prepared to look a bit silly at first. Oh, and don’t forget to let them know you are a Christian and invite them for a cuppa!