18 July 2017

Neighbours Helping Neighbours

The participants at one of my recent events came up with a time-related problem experienced by many parents.  I was at Tauriko School, Tauranga to run a time management seminar for parents. (It’s a fund-raising opportunity for communities and based around my new book ‘Getting a Grip on Parenting Time: 86 commonsense lessons from the trenches’.)  The issue landed on fertile soil, for I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with my friend Gloria Hurst from Oamaru about the very same topic.

‘We moved here from Auckland a few years ago,’ said one of the participants. ‘We don’t have any close family support for the times when there are just too many things going on or we have an emergency. A common example: my husband has a key client meeting so can’t get out of work, one of the kids is sick, and I have to take the other one to a sports event. It can be a real challenge.’

Tauriko School principal Suzanne Billington chipped in. ‘We have a lot of new families moving into this fast-growing area with that problem. When I show them around the school I ask if they’ve got any nearby family or helpful friends for the emergency times. Many don’t.’

We started to think about who else in a community could do with support. Apart from young families, there are many lonely or isolated people, including emigrants and retired folks.  And then we thought of the people, including those recently retired, with time on their hands, looking for connections or interesting projects. Or, they might be happily engaged in their various activities but have capacity to help if they know about a need.

The group started to bubble over with ideas. Here is a smorgasbord of them, in no particular order.

  • Skills survey. Run a survey of your community to find out what skills are hiding behind quiet suburban doors. Many people won’t push themselves forward, but if asked are happy to share their skills, knowledge and time with appreciative learners.
  • Record the information in an easily accessible form. Create a database of individuals’ skills and contributions that they’d be happy to share with others. It might be craft or technical skills; it could be time; surplus garden produce; meals or assistance for new parents or families with children in hospital. The possible list is endless.
  • Web management of the information. Perhaps it could work a bit like Airbnb or Trademe but with a community focus – those with something to offer can post their offering. Those who would love some extra help can post the help they need. (Would the community website Neighbourly.co.nz be sufficient, or does it need to be a different entity?)
  • How to keep vulnerable people safe is always a concern. In the few minutes we discussed the concept we didn’t arrive at a simple answer, but I’m sure there is one. It might be as simple as honest feedback by users and providers; that works on the Trademe and Airbnb-style websites. Perhaps there also needs to be a local coordinator or group.
  • Honorary grandparents. Some older people, with time on their hands and perhaps no grandchildren, or none living within easy distance, would be very happy to be involved with nearby younger families who don’t have local support. When my own parents were alive and living in Te Puke, with their many grandchildren all living in different parts of New Zealand, they loved filling this role for a number of their local church or neighbourhood families.
  • Find a champion organisation. There might be one or more community or service organisations in each community that would champion it in their local district. It could be a school or early childhood group, a church, or a service organisation such as Rotary or Lions.
  • Other examples. Check out the Men in Sheds movement. http://menssheds.org.uk/ and the New Zealand equivalent http://menzshed.org.nz/. My quick view of their information indicates that their initial aim was primarily to support retired men sitting around at home, lonely and bored.

So, what do you think? Has the idea got legs? Who else is doing great things like this? Is there an organisation already out there with a structure that this could clip on to? I’d love you to add your thoughts in the response box or email me at [email protected].

5 thoughts on “Neighbours Helping Neighbours”

  1. Kris Ericksen says:

    Some communication that I had with Neighbourly a couple of years ago that may be of interest / relevance re: Neighbours helping neighbours.

    IMHO any “help network” needs to have high trust amongst its users – and tapping into the TradeMe “address verified” network as the foundation would be the idea foundation. Alternatively such a foundation would need to be replicated – which will be hard work. Neighbourly do not have that “trust network” IMHO – it has a very broad-brush suburb approach to membership – and no verification that you are actually even in that suburb…

    Loomio is potentially a very good way to exchange and develop networks though: https://www.loomio.org/

    And of course GoogleGroups is a superb way of communicating when you have contact details: http://googlegroups.com/

    If someone comes out of the woodwork and wants to build a website to support your wonderful vision then here is a possible template to follow: http://site4life.homestead.com/ – I came up with this framework about 12 years ago. It didn’t get any traction at the time because MySpace occupied that territory…. And FB only now still does a small bit of what I proposed…. Anyway, it is in the public domain – so feel free to share as you see fit.

  2. Hi Robyn some time ago I had a similar idea where I wanted to help a young mother with no support and I went to plunket they matched me up with a mum with one year old twins and a three year old. I used to go once a week to visit take the kids for a walk and give her half an hour or so to herself. It also gave her someone to talk to and get some reassurance that she was doing ok. She has since moved away but we both talked about setting up a facebook group or similar where you could match people up. I really enjoyed being a help to her family and she was grateful to have the help. We thought you could really expand on this format to help young families in their time of need. Kind regards Laureen

    1. Robyn Pearce says:

      That’s a great contribution, Lauren. Thanks for your contribution.

      Best, Robyn

  3. Robyn Pearce says:

    This contribution is from Veronica Bennett. Thanks Veronica. Great ideas.

    Hi Robyn
    just read your blog so here’s a few thoughts for you

    – check out this website https://www.becollective.com/

    – the community could set up their own group on Neighbourly which has perhaps better security/rules than FB – this could also allow for a nominated group coordinator to help facilitate/promote the group.

    – re the safety issue – I work in an NGO and I ran a trial service called Family Friends some years ago for govt in response to many families with children on mild to moderate disability spectrum needing support – indeed most families that were referred were isolated from their own family connections and had few friends.

    We paired them with a ‘family friend’ which involved a screening process for safety checking – the families/grandparents/individuals that volunteered were all comfortable with doing this process as they recognized the importance of being safe. It was highly successful, however despite that govt chose not to continue funding it.

    It may not need to be this formal in the community, but perhaps they could engage a local social service NGO in an advisory role as we are well experienced in this area of managing child safety. (One of our services is based in Tauranga and they could link the school with resources)

    Another aspect of safety is building trust – the community could find other reasons to gather and that will help facilitate ‘getting to know your neighbourhood’ – eg in my local community (rural) there is a market monthly at the local hall, mthly Friday evening drinks and nibbles, and a civil defence initiative underway (it’s eye-opening for people to have CD, Neighbourhood Support, fire service etc coming along and explaining what we’ll need to do to look after ourselves and each other as they will likely be busy elsewhere!)

    keep up the good work :)
    Veronica Bennett

  4. Robyn Pearce says:

    Miriam Rutherford, Designer, Founder, Managing Director of Safe T Sleep International http://www.safetsleep.com wrote me to say she’d proposed a similar idea to a church group. They’ve not picked it up thus far, as far as she knows. Below you’ll find her suggestions.

    On a macro level, it doesn’t need to be an over-arching organisation to run this kind of support. Many of us want to contribute to neighbours in need, and grass-roots movements are often the most effective. I’ve posed these ideas not because I want to necessarily spear-head something, but to encourage us all to look for ways to reach out, in the most effective way for each community.

    Here’s Miriam:

    Hi Robyn,
    Great minds and hearts often think alike especially when spurred on for the greater good:)
    … This is what I wrote to the church group I mentioned.

    After some brainstorming and market research with individuals and a few groups, just to start the ball rolling, what do you think of this idea?:

    A team of probably mature female volunteers to offer friendship and practical support to new mums eg : home visits for company, light housework, shopping, babysitting so mum can have a sleep or a shower , a walk , a buddy?

    We’re thinking to bring together grandparents whose families don’t live close, with those new mums who don’t have their families close by. Maybe also other mums who want to buddy up?

    This would possibly work out best in local neighbourhoods.

    Best, Miriam

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