How to check on your neighbours (without scaring them!)
Knocking on the door of an elderly or vulnerable neighbour and demanding to know if they are okay seems like a nice idea, but in today’s climate of stranger danger, such actions might just lead to fear and suspicion - or can just appear patronising.
Professor Sandi Mann is a qualified psychologist and lectures at University of Central Lancaster (UCLAN). She offers some strategies that might be better ways of making that first contact, most of which are based on the old-fashioned sense of community that used to be the norm:
1. Borrow something. Nevermind that you have a plentiful supply of sugar in your house – knock on the door of your neighbour and ask for some. Most people would rather help than be helped, so this will make your neighbour feel useful and of value.
2. Catch them leaving the house then leap out for a casual ‘over the fence’ type chat. This is how neighbours connected in days gone by, but nowadays, with our hectic lives, you might have to work a bit at re-instating that.
3. Take someone cute and small with you: this could be a child (preferably your own) or a pet (ditto). Small creatures really help break the ice and reduce the suspicion when you are trying to establish a rapport with a neighbour.
4. Do something nice for them: put their bins out, sweep their leaves or clear the snow. Knock on their door and tell them that you were doing your own so thought you’d help with their too (this is only effective for near neighbours!).
5. Ask them for a small favour: can they take delivery of a parcel, push your post through while you are away or maybe even hold a spare set of keys for you? This will establish a relationship based on mutual trust.
6. Have a neighbourly social: pop a note through their door inviting them to a coffee morning, drinks evening or even light supper. This is a way of offering hospitality without being patronising.
7. Start a Pay It Forward initiative in your neighbourhood; this is where people are encouraged to do something nice for someone in the expectation that, instead of paying it back, they pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else. In this way, kindness is spread across the community – and no one feels that they are the recipient of charity since everyone can carry out acts of kindness (examples include washing cars, running errands, baking cakes, sending get well cards, feeding pets etc).
8. Set up a neighbourhood watch scheme; this is a great way to meet your neighbours and have everyone keep an eye on everyone else.
9. Go for a walk: most of our lack of neighbourliness compared with yesteryear is to do with the different way our communities are structured. Car and internet use, coupled with the lack of reliance on a corner shop, have meant we are less likely to bump into our neighbours. Dog walkers are far more likely to know their neighbours, so take a leaf from their book, ditch the car and go for a stroll round the neighbourhood – don’t forget to say hello to people on your rounds!
10. And finally…try the Smile Method! We are all so busy these days, running from car to house, eyes tuned to our phones as we go, that we seem to have forgotten to look around and greet any passing neighbours with a smile. A smile is the start of an interaction, which is the start of an acquaintance - which is the start of a friendship.