When we first moved into our new house two years ago, I told myself I would go and meet all the neighbours as soon as possible. Over the course of a week or so, we were fortunate in that we either bumped into neighbours who were walking their dogs - or we had really kind neighbours come over and introduce themselves. It was a really, warm welcome to the neighbourhood that made us feel at home and so happy to have moved here. There were a couple of people on our cul-de-sac who I didn’t meet in that first month and I told myself I would go and knock on their door and introduce myself ‘one day’.
Well fast forward two years and I still hadn’t officially met those neighbours! Now, I’m not a shy person, I generally make friends easily and have no issues in social situations; I was brought up to know the importance of being a part of my community, I had hard evidence that we had moved to a super friendly neighbourhood – and yet I still never took that next step and went and introduced myself…
What stopped me? To be honest, the only excuse I had was the ‘business’ of life. I kept thinking, I’ll do it next week, or tomorrow, or when it’s not raining etc, etc. But there would always be a reason not to make that extra effort.
So what made me finally decide to hold a neighbourhood party, two years after moving in?
In the time since moving here, I had befriended another neighbour who had talked about their eagerness to hold a neighbourhood party – over a year ago. They have lived here for 10 years and are yet to hold one. I didn’t want to find myself here 10 years later, still not knowing who lived 200m from my place.
My boys (4 and 6 years) had started to grow up and get to know their neighbourhood and had been dying to meet some local children in the neighbourhood to play with. None of our direct neighbours had kids our age, so we needed to open our circumference!
I had attended the Nature Play QLD Childhood Summit in March and watched the documentary The Neighbourhood Play Project. It was really the kick up the backside I needed to remind me of the importance of belonging to a community, of free play in nature (which is what our entire philosophy is about at Wildlings Forest School), of multi-age learning and of having a sense of place, space and belonging. I knew I needed to practice what I preached and stop waiting for someone else to do it! We read up about Neighbourhood Play on the Nature Play QLD website and that gave us the boost we needed.
So, together with my boys, we decided on what type of party we would have. They knew I wanted to keep it VERY simple and hassle free and I knew they wanted the maximum number of children to come. So, we decided to hold the party on a Sunday afternoon between 3 and 5pm (to avoid school sport, church, birthday parties and catering meals etc) outside. We’re very fortunate to live on a decent block of land, so we decided to hold the party in our front yard, that way I didn’t have to worry about hosting everyone inside. If it rained, we decided we would just host the party on our deck.
On the invite, we told people to bring a plate of afternoon tea to share (so they could cater to their own dietary requirements), drinks and a chair. We invited the children to bring their bikes and helmets, we already had the trampoline in the front yard for them to play on and we decided we would put out some toys in the mud kitchen and some other outdoor toys for the younger children to play with. The boys wanted to have a fire, so we let everyone know that this would be happening on the invite too.
Next we created a very simple flyer. We initially printed twenty to put out amongst our cul-de-sac but then we wanted to invite some of our neighbours who we knew in an adjoining street. Then we felt bad that we had invited some people on the street and not others, so we put flyers out all over that street. Then we realised there were really only another dozen or so houses in the last cul-de-sac in our area, so decided to invite them too! (I didn’t tell my husband how many invites I had put out until a week after they were all out haha!)
Because we had invited so many households and we were coming up to our busiest period running holiday programs, I decided not to worry about asking people to RSVP. I figured we would run the party, rain, hail or shine (fortunately it was shining) and that way I wouldn’t have to carry the mental load of who was coming or not.
All up we sent out 60 invites… I know, that seems terrifying and quite honestly like something the police will end up attending. But I figured (hopefully, naively, stupidly?) that many people would be away, we held our party during the school holidays, and many others would not come (it’s not their thing, they may have had to work, they find social situations awkward, they might have visitors, they might be sick, they may have met us before and don’t want to meet us again – joking, I think…). And I was right.
All up, we had around ten couples come; two of those couples had children plus an extra child from across the road who came without his parents (because, ‘It’s not really our thing but he’ll enjoy it.’ And that was fine by us. We barely saw the children the entire time of the party. As kids do, they hit it off straight away, “You’re a kid, I’m a kid, let’s play!”, leaving us adults to mingle. It was a really lovely afternoon. I knew approximately half of the couples, so met around five new families, two of those with potential playmates for the boys.
On reflection, what I learned is this:
Only the already quite sociable people will quite likely turn up. They’re the people that know the importance of community, can hold conversations and like to know their neighbours. Every single couple that came was incredibly friendly, kind and so very appreciative that we had made the effort on behalf of the neighbourhood. Some had lived here for over 40 years, others had only moved in this year. One had flown back from Texas only hours early but they all made the effort because they thought it was important.
It doesn’t need to be a lot of effort. The hardest part was posting all the flyers. I took the boys walking for three afternoons in a row and still didn’t get them all done. In the meantime, my printer went on the blink, and it was another week before it got up and going again, so I drove to drop the last few flyers off.
I repeat. It does not need to be hard work. I didn’t bake or make anything. I put out a few bowls of chips and a fruit and cheese plate. Every couple brought something along but barely any of it got eaten. I think you could get away with not asking anyone to bring anything and just put out a cheese/dip plate with a gluten/dairy/nut free option (fruit/veg platter) if you wanted to keep it super simple.
Though I asked people to bring chairs, none of us sat down and it was probably better because of this. We were able to move around and mingle and meet everyone. It gave the afternoon a really relaxed vibe. Everyone was really relaxed and happy.
Fires at the end of March are too hot! We didn’t end up lighting the fire until around 6.00pm when nearly everyone had left. We enjoyed a wine around the fire with the last couple to leave and everyone was gone by 7.00pm. Next time we host one (because we will), we will aim for the cooler months so we can have a fire. Fire just brings people together like nothing else does.
Having it in the front yard is less daunting for the people coming. They can see the cars parked and people mingling on the lawn, so they know they have come to the right place and that they won’t be the only ones there!
People are inherently good and kind, and kindness begets kindness. In this world of continuously sensationalised news stories, it can be hard to remember that in general, most people are good. The best thing I got out of the party was an overall feeling of comfort, ease and security that my neighbours were good people.
People want to connect, but in this day and age of business, social media, odd work hours, and fear of ‘other’, we sometimes put meeting our neighbours in the ‘too hard’ basket out of fear. Just because people are different, parent differently, have different faiths or see the world differently, doesn’t mean they are not worthy of our time and that we won’t learn something from them. Make the effort and you will be surprised by the rewards.
IT WAS WORTH THE EFFORT!
So, what’s stopping you from hosting your own neighbourhood party?
Since writing this blog, we have received two letters from neighbours who were unable to attend. One invited us around for a playdate on another day (which we will do) and another thanked us for the invite and let us know that they would be very keen to join the next one.
Feedback from the neighbours we’ve bumped into tells us that everyone that attended is very keen for this to happen again, at least a couple of times a year.
Apparently there used to be an annual neighbourhood Christmas party, but the hosts have unfortunately left.
If we don’t host it, I’m fairly sure that another neighbour will put their hand up.
I love our neighbourhood!