Meet the Street
Perhaps you already know your neighbours pretty well; perhaps you would like to get to know them better but don't quite know how to go about it?
How did we get started?
In the run up to Christmas 2018 I was reading a book called “The Little Book of Lykke”, written by the Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen (yes, there really is such a thing!), a guide to finding the keys to happiness. One of those things is togetherness, and there is a chapter devoted to ideas for building relationships, including with your immediate community (i.e. your neighbours). After attending the kick-off meeting of CALMtown St Ives, our family decided we wanted to stop just thinking how it might be nice to get to know our neighbours better, and actually do something to make that happen.
What did we do?
We invited our whole street over for a Sunday afternoon of Christmas drinks. We took invites round to every house (all 46), baked some mince pies, put the kettle on, and waited to see who would pop in. And it was a lovely afternoon – plenty of people came, and lots of people met neighbours they’d never spoken to before.
There was a nice buzz and talk of arranging a BBQ in the summer, when the weather should be better and we can all get out onto the green. And we got to thinking – perhaps we could inspire other neighbourhoods to give it a go? And so, Meet the Street was born.
Why do it?
Perhaps you already know your neighbours pretty well; perhaps you would like to get to know them better but don’t know quite how to go about it? There are many reasons to get to know your neighbours: it increases the sense of community; increases feelings of safety and security; reduces loneliness, and builds more and closer friendships. Once you get to know your neighbours better, who knows where the journey might take you?
The important thing is that it will be shaped by the people in your community and their skills, needs and interests. You could start a skills directory for your street (registering people’s skills, hobbies or things they can offer or need help with), or maybe a tool-sharing programme (what tools do people own that they might be interested in lending or borrowing?)
We did our own take on Meet the Street. My 9-year-old son and I along with my neighbour and her 9 and 7-year-old daughters made cakes and visited all our neighbours (and a few more!). Rather than open up our houses we decided to visit everyone and say hello along with some cake. Most people were very pleased to see us and we have even received a thank you card and email from some of our neighbours.
For some who weren’t in we even left a take away style cake on the doorstep with details of what we were doing. It was nice to meet a few new people and also visit those who may struggle to get out.
Meet the Street Weekend, Feb 2020. Rebecca Dunmore.
What happened next?
Well, we organised a coffee morning to coincide with Neighbours’ Day (24th May); then a few people on the street got together to organise a street BBQ at the end of the summer. People brought out chairs, tables, gazebos, BBQs and everyone brought along some food and drink and we had a great afternoon in the late summer sunshine, eating, chatting and playing games (including a spontaneous game of cricket!)
There’s definitely a sense of people getting to know each other better on the street; new friendships are forming and the sense of community is growing.
What could you do?
It doesn’t have to take much – just making the effort to say hello is a good place to start. If you feel like taking things a step further, you could do what we did and invite people round for a coffee; it’s easier to socialise over food and drinks.
When we invited everyone over for drinks it was a simple matter of making and delivering some invites; getting in some mince pies or biscuits, and sticking the kettle on.
Even the BBQ we did later in the summer didn’t take a huge amount of organisation as everyone brought their own food and drinks. Perhaps you’ve got some green open space on your street – if the weather is looking good at the weekend you could see who would like to join you in a BYO picnic lunch?
If there are a lot of children on your street, you could organise a Play Street event (either as a one-off or regularly) – a simple road-closure form is available from Cambridgeshire County Council. But what works for your street might be different, and that’s fine – the important thing is to find a way to make that connection.