Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours. In fact, it’s such a universal experience we’re surprised there isn’t a long-running TV series about it.
But the truth is our lives are so busy, and our gardens so low-maintenance, that many of us just don’t get to swap new cake recipes or belittling football-related banter with the people who live close by.
And that’s a shame, not least because humans are generally social mammals, and getting on with your neighbours is actually good for you.
Research by London-based group The Young Foundation has found that people who have regular contact with their neighbours feel happier, healthier and safer. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
So make the effort. You don’t have to become friends; you just have to become neighbours, which in itself is a significant step up from ‘people who live quite near each other’. And there are good, practical reasons too for knowing your neighbours.
When you know your neighbours...
You can borrow stuff. Have you run out of self-raising flour mid-bake? Do you need a ladder to get your child’s socks off the roof (don’t ask)? Neighbours can help. You can even borrow them if you need a reliable local babysitter.
Neighbours also keep you informed, whether it’s news about the council wheelie bin rota or the likely date of the next topless car wash by him at number 20. And don’t knock the nosiness too much; it can also keep your house safer when you’re away.
It’s friendlier. You can at least say “Hi Jim” when you see Jim, rather than just giving that half-embarrassed south-of-England smile. And before you know it, you might even be round Jim and Jenna’s house for an actually very pleasant barbecue.
You can also pool resources, from taking it in turns getting the kids to football training to shovelling snow. Groups can be good.
So how do you get to know your neighbours?
Spending time outside – gardening, walking/jogging, washing the car or even cleaning the windows – can be a natural, no-pressure time to swap pleasantries. As long as the neighbours don’t think you are the local window cleaner, and you end up doing theirs too for a tenner.
Having kids or pets means you can share some common interests, experiences, and frustrations, and therefore bond and strike up friendships.
How about popping round with some information and stuff? It’s not every day – that’s annoying, unless you’re besties – but if you’ve suddenly got news about a missing cat at number 16 or you’ve got too many apples from your apple tree, well, why not?
Oh and on the subject of giving, the rule is to give casually, except in emergencies. In normal circumstances “I’ve cooked you a delicious three-course Italian meal!” is no good – it puts immediate pressure on the recipient. And, frankly, it’s a bit weird.
Hosting a ‘block party’ for no reason and asking the whole street round your house – mmm, probably not. Unless you’re reading this in America, in which case you’re a lot more socially relaxed and that’s fine. But see ‘Street parties’ below.
OK, now street parties are a different animal from “everyone round mine”.
First of all, this being Britain, you’ll need a decent reason to hold one and preferably a non-political one. Bear in mind, for example, that even the Queen’s 90th birthday might seem political to some of your neighbours.
So what would be a good reason? We like the ‘Street Anniversary’ party because it’s logical and street-specific. You research when your street first got planning permission, or when the first house was built or opened, or even when the last house was occupied, and then celebrate whichever of those dates is the most summery.
If a nice little card landed on your doormat saying “It’s been 25 years since our street was built – and we’re having a street party to celebrate”, that would be OK wouldn’t it?
A street party needs a lot of planning, however – right from the start when you need to organise a committee and identify a party site. But there’s a website for this that can help: www.streetparty.org.uk
And finally, there’s what to do about bad neighbours.
If there’s any problem – careless parking, an overly high hedge or something more serious – always speak to them first. Most people hate a ‘telling off’ note through their letterbox or tucked under the windscreen wiper, however carefully phrased.
Anti-social behaviour is in a different category. This can range from regular late-night noise to more serious criminal behaviour.
Depending on the scale of the problem, a chat may not be enough; it might eventually be time to get the local authority or even the police involved.
In the meantime, keep a diary of a bad, long-running problem, noting down dates/times etc. Calmly producing a short but detailed report of the problem to the authorities is better than a rambling, angry conversation.
A good website to check out if you’re affected by this is www.citizensadvice.org.uk/housing/problems-where-you-live/neighbour-disputes/.
But if you get into the habit of speaking to your neighbours regularly, then you can drop any complaint into everyday conversation – otherwise you end up only ever speaking to them when something’s wrong.
If you’re doing most of the ‘good neighbour’ stuff above, you’re less likely to have bad neighbours.
Keeping the lines of communication open is key. That’s when good neighbours become good friends. (There really should be a TV series about this).