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Tips On Building a Community With Your Neighbours

How to turn your neighbourhood into a community

Do you remember the first day when the level five lockdown restrictions started easing in May last year and, after weeks of staying inside, we were finally allowed to walk around our neighbourhood?

I do. That first morning I was up and out of the house, hitting the neighbourhood streets. And for the first time, the streets were packed with people walking. Runners are finally getting to stretch their legs, kids out on their bicycles, new moms pushing their prams and dogs going a bit berserk.

Each morning, between six and nine, the neighbourhood ventured out onto the streets. We eventually started recognising the same faces on our walks, and slowly a little community started forming.

Somehow, being locked down, managed to reignite the friendly neighbourhood community. And it’s just been getting stronger ever since.

Complex neighbours are the new family

In South Africa, many of us live in complexes, large estates, and apartment blocks. These all have prime conditions for building a small community during times when we can’t venture out of our homes too much (thanks to the lockdown restrictions).

When you can’t leave your complex or estate, why not make friends with your neighbours? Having neighbours that are friends means that you’re never too far away from someone to hang out with (in person). This makes for a refreshing change from the virtual communities that we’ve built on our phones.

It’s not a new concept, we’ve seen neighbours hanging out together on our television screens for the past few decades: Friends, Desperate Housewives, The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory, to name a few.

We also had it in our communities as kids. I’ve heard stories of street braais, cul-de-sac parties, and kids causing daily havoc on the street. Some of those neighbourhood kids became lifelong friends.

Somewhere along the line, though, those unique relationships slowed down. We retreated further into our homes and restricted our community interactions to WhatsApp and Facebook groups. Recognising our neighbours purely by their profile picture and their use of emojis.

Until now.

After months of Zoom calls, video chats with friends and way too many WhatsApp groups. We want to see human faces in person. While physical interaction is still very limited, it’s the physical presence of other people that we’re craving.

And who better to be physically present with right now than your neighbours? The most convenient of all relationships. And the ultimate way to combat loneliness.

Creating a sense of community in your complex has been linked to so many positives, including an increased sense of belonging, providing a physical and mental health boost and even lowering crime rates.

But it’s not always that easy to spark meaningful relationships with your neighbours. Like all human relationships, it takes a bit of effort.

How to build a community in your complex

While we’d like to think that building a community in our complex is as easy as knocking on our neighbour’s door and saying ‘hi’. It’s not always that simple.

Here are a few ways to start building a sense of community in your complex:

1. Become a trustee on your body corporate

The best way to become involved with the community in your complex is to become a trustee. Sure, it involves a bit more admin than knocking on your neighbour’s door, but it’s the best way to get to know your neighbours.

Once you start chatting to more people in your complex, you’ll start clicking with a few people, and that’s how friendships start to build. Being a trustee will also put you in the position to be able to organise more activities that will help build a stronger community.

2. Introduce yourself to your neighbours

If you’re new to a complex or if someone new moves into your complex, go out of your way to go and introduce yourself. Even if you’ve lived in your home for a while, this first introduction doesn’t need to be awkward. Simply smile and say,

“Hey, I’ve been meaning to introduce myself…”

The first step to building a friendship with someone is learning their name.

3. Hang out where people can see you

One of the ladies in my complex knows absolutely everything about everyone, and I’m 100% convinced that it’s because she’s regularly gardening outside of her house. When you’re always visible, it means that you ‘bump’ into your neighbours far more regularly. These pavement chats are the organic boost to building friendships.

4. Organise a complex braai

A fun way to get your complex together is to organise a braai in your communal area. Pick a day, organise a few people to bring their braais (if you don’t have a communal braai area) and get everyone to bring their own chairs and tables.

5. Don’t become ‘that neighbour’

You know that neighbour. The neighbour that is always complaining on the WhatsApp group, the neighbour that hosts loud, raucous parties every weekend or the neighbour that disobeys all of the complex rules. Building a sense of community in your complex requires everyone to respect each other.

6. Start a complex project

A great way to build a sense of community in your complex is to create a shared cause or project that you can all work together on. Whether it’s starting a complex veggie patch, kickstarting your recycling program, collecting donations for a nearby charity or all pitching in together to do the maintenance on your common property.

7. Volunteer your time

Volunteer to help your neighbours out when they’re in need. With the current lockdown restrictions, many families are struggling. If you have elderly neighbours, volunteer to do their shopping for them so that they don’t have to go out.

If you have neighbours with young kids, volunteer to help look after them if you have the time. If you have school-aged kids yourself, perhaps start a home-school group where all the kids can study together.

And if your neighbour needs a lift, give them a lift.

8. Include your complex staff

Don’t forget that the people who work in your complex - the security guards, the gardeners and the maintenance team - are all part of your community as well. Chat with the gardeners, take your security guard a flask of coffee, and make an effort to learn more about them.

Bring back the good neighbourly vibes

If there’s one positive thing that comes out of living through a pandemic, it’s that we all start appreciating the beauty of a neighbourhood community. There is, after all, unity in a community! Start with your complex, and who knows, you might eventually branch out into your whole neighbourhood.

About the author

Chileque Bezuidenhout is the director of Unity, a cloud-based property management software, designed to help managing agents and estate managers streamline their operations and customer service. Should you wish to reach out to her directly you can follow her on LinkedIn.

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