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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Social Networking -- in the Local Community

We have lived in our house since 1986 and other than our neighbours on the right have met very few people from our neighbourhood in that time.  I am not entirely sure why that is -- other than 'keeping ourselves to ourselves' as some tend to do. We live only a few blocks from the town centre and many of the houses on our street have been turned into flats and bedsits and there is a very high turnover. But there are also several single family dwellings and in all that time there has only been one occasion when I met anybody from our block and that was our neighbours  barbecue one summer evening a long time ago. I  think last night that may, thankfully, have changed because we met a whole bunch of people!

A few weeks ago we received an invitation to attend a 'Home Watch' meeting to be held on the 26th of January at 7.30 p.m. Both The Man and I have long felt it would be a good idea to have a 'Home Watch' group as from time to time there has been trouble -- Once there was an armed robbery in a nearby supermarket and the man had run from his car when the bag of money spewed forth pink smoke in front of our house. It was quite a shock for us to look out our front window and see an armed policeman standing in front of our gate! (Fellow Americans, this is England and armed police are still not the order of the day!) More than once the police helicopter has hovered over our street in the middle of the night searching for suspicious characters. And then there are Saturday night drunks -- men and women -- mostly young -- swearing and screaming obscenities as they made their way home at 4 in the morning! One night fire we heard a terrible commotion and looked to see flames pouring out from the windows of one of the  houses across the street -- we stood mesmerized as the fire engines screamed to attention. Though things have quietened down for us the past couple of years, we have always worried a bit during the summer when our house has been empty during the annual French sojourn. Most years either one of our boys has remained behind and taken care of things and last year we managed to rent it out for 6 weeks.

We arrived at our host's home and the room was brimming with people. Several of them had been part of a Home Watch group for several years but there were just as many of us 'newcomers'. The room was a-buzz with excitement and after tea and coffee were served by our hostess we settle down to introductions and discussion. As talk went on we discovered to our amazement that four or five houses down the street there was a big problem house of flats. Drugs, arson, disreputable people and lots of suspected illegal activity. In addition there were problem children -- one boy in particular, aged 11.

Two young women seemed to have taken charge of contacting officialdom and had already made several contacts. One woman, who we already knew, had had lots of problems as she her place was next door to the problem house. One of the big problems that emerged was the inability of the police to do anything effective when there was an emergency. Once when she called because she smelled smoke through a fire wall, the 999 responder told her not to worry that she had an hour before the fire would get to her house...

A couple from a block or so away advised that they got action after they had contacted our Member of Parliament. His office is not far from our neighbourhood and we have found that various problems with officialdom have been solved when he gets involved -- and with other locally elected officials 'stick their oar in' as well. We are hoping to be able to get people from the police and Home Watch as well as our MP to come to future meetings. In the meantime we have been advised to:

  • Keep a diary of all incidents and to record the date and time
  • If we call the police or other emergency people, get the log number from the person to whom you report the incident.
  • Keep a record of when the police or fire or ambulance respond
While a lot of what we heard was disturbing -- blissful ignorance is a tempting state to want to be in -- it was reassuring to feel part of a community and the realization that people really did want to help each other and to work together to solve the problems that are facing every town in the UK. I left the meeting feeling very positive -- The Man lay awake all night worrying! But then the next day he was out finding out what he could about surveillance cameras for the woman living next door to the problem house. And he said he would even install one for her if no one in her family was handy at that sort of thing.

It was really good to finally meet so many people, some of whom have been living in the area for as long as we have been and all of whom seemed to genuinely want have a real community instead of streets of strangers.

22 comments:

  1. G'day Broad. It is good that now you have made contact with others in your general area. Hubby and I have always relied on our neighbours wherever we have lived and they in turn knew that we would be there for them if the need ever arose. We have been here six months now in the new house and really only know two of our neighbours reasonably well, but that is always a start. I hope your Home Watch works out. It is very important.There is a program here called Neighbourhood Watch which works on the same principle. Take care. Liz...

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    1. It's also called Neighbourhood Watch here -- not sure if there is any difference -- other than where you are in the country...

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  2. We live in a small village and have a Neighbourhood Watch group. Although we aren't active members, luckily some of our near neighbours have taken on the responsibility to coordinate the group and disseminate notes and emails. It is all rather reassuring. Fortunately, levels of crime and antisocial behaviour are low, but there is some.
    I hope your group manages to sort out some of the problems experienced by you and your neighbours.

    An added bonus is that you are getting to know more of the people who form your community.

    Together we are stronger than we are as individuals ...

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    1. I was shocked to discover years ago how high the crime rate was in some rural areas. We had friends living in Yorkshire on a lonely country road and while they lived there they were broken into several times. Villains from the city found it was easier to break into houses when nobody was around. I understand it is still a problem.

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  3. People coming together can do anything, even create a safe and friendly neighborhood.

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  4. We never got to know our neighbours well in the UK when we moved to a two up two down after buying in France. The only contact was to ask them to keep the sound down which was never appreciated! Before that, only about a 1km away, we lived in a row of houses, we knew everyone and we all looked out for each other.
    France is completely different, here we know everyone in the hamlet and they are all great friends (despite the language difficulty!). Diane

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    1. The dynamics of why some places are friendly and others not is interesting to me. It seems to me that generally people really do want to be friendly but whether it is fear or suspicious natures that is the problem -- it's hard to say.

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  5. It's never too late to get to know people, Broad, and I'm glad you found the meeting so positive. It's a pity we need schemes such as Home or Neighbourhood Watch, but working together with others to safeguard and improve the area where you live can be very rewarding. Even here in the deepest countryside we have Farm Watch to try to prevent the theft of livestock and expensive machinery.

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    1. Yes, and every since whenever I walk into town I see someone I met that night and have a few words or share a wave if it's from a distance. We have farmer friends who live by the Welsh border in Herefordshire and they have had a lot of problems with cattle rustling and theft.

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  6. This is really great that you met your neighbors this way and a helpful way for all as well. We have been in our house since 1976 and know only one family but we don’t see them often. The houses are far apart; our next door neighbor would have to drive around their lake to come to see us. Once we cut some trees down and they called the police because we were not moving the branches away fast enough. New owners came across the street and I went to welcome them but they never opened their door and when I waved at them they turn their back – I guess it is because we placed an Obama sign in our yard and we were the only ones in a 5 miles radius as everyone else was voting against him. I wish we had a meeting like this, but doubt than more than 3 people would come. Here people are friendly only if they know you from a conservative church. Traveling helps.

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  7. Oh my goodness, Vagabonde! That was a brave thing to do putting an Obama sign in your front yard -- but good for you -- and don't get me started on what's going on now!!!

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  8. Hello Katherine:
    Whilst we would wish that you did not have to meet your neighbours under such an occasion as this, nevertheless, we are sure that it is good to get to know other members of the community a little better. It is, indeed, encouraging that there are plenty of people in your neighbourhood who really do want to make it a better place for everyone.

    When we lived in Herefordshire, we were astonished how high up the list of places with trouble many rural towns were. Drug taking seemed to be a particularly worrying issue.

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    1. Yes, we are very encouraged by the number of people that responded and at how friendly they were. It's a shame that it's so easy to hide away in our big Victorian houses... No doubt in my mind that drugs are the bane of our society -- and the solution to the problem seems to be as difficult to solve as ever it was.

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  9. Oh yes, people will come together for a common purpose. So sad though that it has to be something like this. We used to live in a beautiful area of L.A. where nobody socialized. The earthquake of 1994 changed our street. Not only did we learn who was who and what they did for a living, but also set up a street patrol, a neighborhood watch and neighborhood safe houses. Yes, a mutual need for safety will rally the troupe.

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    1. The harder we try to establish our independence, it seems, the more dramatic the events that bring us together -- it seems...

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  10. I know exactly what you mean, Broad! Like Rosaria, Bob and I used to live in a lovely community just north of Los Angeles. We lived in the same house for 29 years and knew very few people there. Our major "meet and greets" were disasters: the 1994 earthquake and, in 1995, the explosion and fire next door that killed our next door neighbor (one of the few people we actually knew). Our community was very family oriented and people socialized through their kids and kids activities. Since we were childless and working long hours, we just didn't really connect with many. I think that a group effort like House Watch and Neighborhood Watch can be a great way to meet your neighbors and keep an eye out for each other. We do this now in Arizona -- and, as this is a retirement community, we have had a chance to get to know our neighbors very well -- a real positive.

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    1. 'Neighbours' and 'neighbourhoods' sometimes feel as if they are things of the past -- a sad commentary on our life and times.

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  11. Not many good things come out of civil disasters, but the experiences described by rosaria and Dr Kathy are examples of one of them. Having spent some time doing disaster relief work in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the days following their worst earthquake almost a year ago, it was common to hear local folk remarking on the newly found spirit of caring for each other that was once a feature of suburban living but had been lost.

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    1. Hi Bricky! Nice to see you here... We have some very good friends in Christchurch. The people there have been having a terrible time since that earthquake. People don't realize how many major tremors and rumblings have and are still continuing. A sense of community spirit can do so much to help you all get through this difficult time ...

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  12. Dear Broad,
    Like you, I know only a few of my neighbors--actually the neighbor right across from me and the ones on each side. They have been so helpful since I moved here in June 2009. It took me much longer in Stillwater, MN, to learn that knowing neighbors made me feel more secure.

    I'm glad that's happening for you now. And I'm glad, too, that you had such a positive experience at the Home Watch, which is called "Neighborhood Watch" in Minnesota. (So I'm wondering where "quilterliz" is from.)

    It's sad that all of us are having to be so much more alert for the possibility of something untoward or bad happening. Sometimes I feel that we live in scary times. But perhaps all times are scary. If I knew my history I'd be better able to compare!

    Take care.
    Peace.

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    1. Quilterliz is an Aussie girl! I think part of the problem is that society now is so mobile. When you grow up with people it's almost like being part of the furniture! It's surprising to realize that most of us really are very shy and at the same time suspicious -- not a good mix to neighbourliness!

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