On Fenchurch St they’ll draw chalk games on the pavement for children to play on, have a big feast in the front yard, then watch a movie outdoors. In Starforth Place they’ll meet in the park for an international dinner. Sophie Bond meets Aucklanders getting together with the people next door for the first Neighbours Day Aotearoa.
Who’s your neighbour? Someone pruning a rose bush? An angry voice telling the dog to shut up? Hands pegging sheets to a line? Do you know your neighbours by name, take them your surplus tomatoes, have them over for a cuppa or go to their house for that necessary cup of icing sugar?
Maybe you've lived for years in the same place without ever speaking to the people living just over the fence. Or perhaps you found that when you met your neighbours, life in your street took a turn for the better.
On the weekend of March 26-27, the first Neighbours Day Aotearoa will give New Zealanders an excuse to make or strengthen ties to their ’hood. Around Auckland, where Neighbours Day was tried in 2009, preparations are well under way.
Tamati Patuwai grew up on Fenchurch St in Glen Innes and still lives in the family home with his wife, Veeshayne, and their four children. He works locally as a Maori engagement facilitator for Ruapotaka Marae and recalls when all the neighbourhood children played together and many families stayed for decades in the same house.
"For us, the community vibe is very important, because that's how we grew up," he says.
For Neighbours Day, the family plans to draw chalk games on the pavement, starting at the top of the street and meeting neighbours as they make their way down.
"Then, in our front yard, we’re going to have a shared community dinner, a big feast, set up a screen and sound system and watch a movie. We’ll go door-knocking with the kids to let others know about it.
"Neighbours Day is an opportunity to be more proactive. You feel safer if you know your neighbours."
In Henderson, Leao Tildsley has clearly made a difference since she and her family moved to Starforth Place four years ago. "It was a bit rougher then and we wanted to keep our children safe and clean up the park, which was notorious for having cars dumped in it.
"My husband and I got to know people by walking the streets and we became community park rangers. We started taking bread to the young hooligans doing burnouts in the street and building relationships with them and they’ve just been great.
“You own back your street when you start caring."
Leao and her husband hold pancake breakfasts in the park a couple of times a year, residents recently got together for a garage sale and are planning a community garden.
The burnout marks are long gone, the park is immaculate and, along the quiet street, a pair of neighbours chats on the way to their cars. As a community development worker for the McLaren Park and Henderson South initiative, Leao is working with other residents on nearby streets to help them also create safer neighbourhoods.
To celebrate Neighbours Day, Starforth Place residents will meet in the park for an international dinner. "My hubby's American and I’m Samoan, so he can make a turkey and I’ll make chop suey"
How it all began
Rebecca Harrington is close to seeing the fulfilment of a dream. In 2007, the 27-year-old began working as a community development worker with Lifewise, an Auckland-based, not-for-profit community group, and Takapuna Methodist Church.
With a broad job description to "contribute positively to life on the North Shore", Rebecca spent many weeks door-knocking in the Sunnynook/Meadowood area, asking people if they knew their neighbours. If not, would they like to?
She says, overwhelmingly, the answer was "not very well, but they'd like to".
"I had great support along the way from other community colleagues and, in 2008, we developed a project called Know Your Neighbours. Because it's such a relevant message and I felt people appreciated it being broached, we thought it would be great to one day have a national campaign to inspire and celebrate neighbourliness."
Know Your Neighbours led to a residents group forming in Unsworth Heights: a network of neighbours offering opportunities to people in the area to meet each other. Among other things the group has organised are two international food festivals to celebrate their multicultural neighbourhood.
Following this work, Rebecca and Megan Courtney, of Inspiring Communities, formed a coalition of interested groups in Auckland which, on October 17, 2009, became the pilot city for Neighbours Day.
Now, 17 months on, things have expanded with Lifewise, Inspiring Communities and Methodist Mission Aotearoa forming a Neighbours Day Aotearoa development team to spread the campaign across the country.
"We're still hearing stories about how neighbours met each other for the first time on Auckland's Neighbours Day in 2009," says Rebecca. "It's our hope many people will have similar experiences this year."
Rebecca's vision for Neighbours Day is an annual weekend of celebration when people make an extra effort to connect with their neighbours. "It's not about big events, but local activity. How different would our country be if every person meaningfully cared for and knew their neighbours?"
She has personal experience of neighbourly relationships sweetening a street. Six months ago, Rebecca and her husband moved to Okura River Rd in Okura. "We're lucky to have moved into a very connected neighbourhood. We've always had offers of fruit from people's trees, tools to borrow, practical help. Events happen regularly here. On Neighbours Day we're having a street party, advertised through the neighbourhood newsletter."
Just over the fence is Richard Lute, who has lived here with his wife and two children for two years and says he knows most of his neighbours.
"We join them for Easter egg hunts, for cricket in the park. It's the kids who make it happen because they're running around and meeting other kids and inviting them over."
At this point — as if he knew the purpose of The Aucklander's visit — Ian from down the road drives past, spots Richard and pulls over. He trots across the road and presents a jar of plum jam, as promised.
Richard smiles. "I met him when we had family visiting and we needed to find somewhere for them to stay. Ian has a bed and breakfast. We’re fishing friends now"
Are we good neighbours?
Dr Paul Spoonley, Massey University's regional director for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, says there’s a myth that Aucklanders are not good neighbours.
"Big cities — Auckland in particular — tend to get a bad rap in terms of social friendliness. But, in fact, Auckland operates as a series of quite specific villages and areas. The evidence is that it’s just as friendly as any small town."
He believes Auckland's ethnic diversity is a significant factor in how well we get along with our neighbours.
"The number of ethnicities and immigrants here makes it one of the most diverse cities anywhere in the world. When people speak a different language or have a different religion then neighbours have to make a special effort to connect. Greater contact with a range of ethnicities leads to greater understanding.
"Our evidence is that Aucklanders are more tolerant of different ethnicities than other New Zealanders. In fact, it would take a fairly deliberate Aucklander to maintain prejudice against others."
Schools and churches are "icebreaker institutions" he says, and are often connection points for people in neighbourhoods.
What will you be doing?
See www.neighboursday.org.nz to sign up your street and show support for the campaign. You can share your ideas, pinch some from other Kiwis and see which areas of New Zealand are involved most actively.
Perhaps this Neighbours Day you’ll simply start by introducing yourself to that new family next door or maybe plan a fish and chip evening at the local park.
The Aucklander would love to hear what you're planning for the first Neighbours Day Aotearoa.
Email details of your event to: email@example.com and we’ll publish some of the best ideas on our website.
The Auckland Photo Blog, an offshoot of the Auckland Festival of Photography, has Neighbours for its March theme. The blog invites photographers of all ages and abilities to submit images taken in Auckland.
Festival director Julia Durkin says: "These may be be the people next door, office colleagues, classmates at school or fans on the park bench you watch your Saturday sports from. Neighbours will challenge you all to take a look at who and what defines this word for you and take a photo that represents that view."
From the beginning of next month, submit images to: