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LauraGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 03-Feb-17 16:17:59

Neighbourliness – is it in decline?

In an age where safety has dominated news headlines and technology has created what some may describe as ‘disconnected communities’, Gransnet Local Editor Alison Rimmer questions just how much of an impact these issues have had on neighbourliness, especially within her own local community.

Alison Rimmer

Neighbourliness - is it in decline?

Posted on: Fri 03-Feb-17 16:17:59


Lead photo

Have you seen a decline in your local area?

“There’s a roundabout in our backyard!” That was always going to be the title of Mum’s book had she ever got round to writing it! She's 87 now - physically frail, but mentally sharp. Following discharge from hospital, she's back home with a ‘care package’ while housebound and we've been talking a lot about the ‘old days’ and how the neighbours used to look out for each other and help in times of need.

Mum grew up in a close-knit community of terraced houses in Lancashire in the 1930s of which, as in many places, there is now no trace. The 1970s regeneration obliterated the houses and streets where Mum grew up and it's now a dual carriageway - hence the title of her book!

This was a time when children played out all day and mums kept an eye on everyone. Older neighbours too would look after you, telling you off, warning you to “Get home. It’ll be dark soon!”, a freedom sadly not enjoyed by my young grandchildren today who, despite living in a cul-de-sac of modern terraces, don’t play out at all.

This freedom to play and roam around brought with it a responsibility for neighbours to look out for one another, especially those who were ill or in need. Children would be sent round to an elderly neighbour to ask if they needed any errands running - the corner shop being within easy reach. Neighbours didn’t knock at the front door, it wasn't kept locked - they just walked into each other's homes if they needed something or wanted to chat. If a housewife was poorly, it was a given that either of the adjacent neighbours would wash her doorstep while doing their own. For people who couldn't afford the services of a doctor (pre-NHS), a local wise woman would help at births and deaths. My great-aunty Nellie was one and could be called upon day or night to assist with birthing, or ‘laying out’ a dead relative in the privacy of their own home - worlds away from the public death of many an old person in a busy hospital ward, surrounded by strangers and laid out alone in the mortuary.

Neighbours didn't knock at the front door, it wasn't kept locked - they just walked into each other's homes if they needed something or wanted to chat.

People needing help after illness weren't assessed for state care - local neighbours popped in to check on them, make a cup of tea, and possibly take a meal round. Not having to go out to work once they had families meant many young mothers had the time to care for relatives and neighbours.

It was the post-WWII renovations that brought a subtle change in how neighbours interacted - people got new doors with a Yale lock and suddenly no one could just walk in anymore; they couldn't pop in quite so easily for socialising or to check on each other. It placed a barrier between people where none had existed before.

I grew up in the 1960s with similar freedom to roam the district. Once the dads had gone to work, hardly a vehicle came down the side roads. Many mums still stayed at home and there was no online shopping - the most excitement was the weekly pop lorry visit and the biggest danger was the coal lorry! Neighbours socialised, even took turns to help an infirm neighbour with no relatives nearby. After Dad died, Mum's immediate neighbours reassured her they were “only a knock on the wall away”.

How different now for Mum, living in a small house away from her long-term marital home. She knows only the first name of the people in the adjacent house. Although it's a small street, everyone drives everywhere and almost everyone is out at work. Strangers come to ‘care’ for her as our family, like many, are at work. How lovely it would be if there was an option of support for young mums to stay home and over 50s to retire early! Our children need not be in nurseries so long and our elderly might not be so lonely.

By Alison Rimmer

Twitter: @GN_Liverpool

Shona Wed 08-Feb-17 10:59:42

Alison Rimmer
Really enjoyed reading your __ neighbourliness article ! Took me back a bit.
Quite sad in someways !

hulahoop Wed 08-Feb-17 11:27:04

Your article brought back memories we were poor but enjoyed life no competing about which clothes etc we had . No neighbouring where I live miss it

Cagsy Wed 08-Feb-17 11:48:49

Alison this was so evocative of my childhood, I was born in Toxteth (or Princes Park as we knew it before the riots) in 1951. My Dad was one of those who would go and 'lay out' dead neighbours and in fact we did it together when my beloved Nan died when I was 17.
We did look out for each other and seemed to know everyone in the terraced street, we all played together and were often out for hours on end with just an old lemonade bottle full of tap water.
There was a 'wash house' attached to the local swimming 'baths' and our neighbour used to offer to do our washing when she went - my Mum did have to work. She wrecked everything, and we didn't have many clothes in those days, so as she would just come in and take everything in the wash basket Mum took to hiding it and just leaving one or two tough items for her to take.
When my youngest DS was born in the 90s we were living in a suburban cul de sac and he played out with the other kids, 2 of them are still amongst his best friends. We also helped out the elederly neighbours on either side of us.
We've moved not far from there but are now on a main road which is not easy to cross, we know the neighbours either side and do take in parcels etc for them but a larger house with driveways which means front doors are quite a way from each other doesn't encourage a lot of chatting over the garden fence. I do know our neighbours have given a lot of support to an older lady across this busy road, you just need to be quick on your feet.
I'm lucky that there is a sense of community in the area we live and quite a few things more I could get involved in if I ever get to retire, but loneliness is a fear as I grow older, guess it is for most of us

GrannyPatchwork Wed 08-Feb-17 21:47:34

Thank you for your comments Shona, Hulahoop and Cagey.

I didnt have enough space to include any more but my children too enjoyed playing out -we used to live in a cul de sac which had 33 children at one time. I often washed the dishes to the sound of thundering feet as they all tried to get to our climbing frame - used as the base in "blockie 1,2,3" I knew my neighbours well and often chattted while watching the children. This was the mid to late 80s - they didn't have as much freedom as we did in the 60s but they had much more than the grandchildren do.

We were talking in patchwork class this week about people living alone suddenly becoming ill and no-one knowing about it and how once if the milk was left on the doorstep it signalled something not right! Milk in bottles!! Another thing long gone!

Cosafina Sun 12-Feb-17 14:22:55

We lived next door to a cul-de-sac and there was a recreation field (the rec) at the end of that. All the local kids used to play out there in the rec, jumping out of trees and breaking their arms etc, till my mum used to issue a call from our back door that could be heard that far away, then ALL the kids knew it was time to come home.
With my own DD we lived on a main road, so I used to have to take her to play with her friends, but now she lives on a cul-de-sac and allows DGS (5) out to play as much as he likes. He's friendly with the kids next door but one, who are a bit older, and just goes round there to ask if they can come out to play - or they come asking for him.
I'm really happy to see him enjoying this freedom, and am sure it contributes to his sense of self and autonomy.

glammanana Sat 04-Mar-17 09:51:13

Very many memories of my childhood in the blog specially of the wash house where I used to go with my nanna every week,she was a big sturdy lady who ran a boarding house near the River Front for workmen and during the times I went with her I found out how to wash every item you can think of she and the other ladies would put the world to rights whilst washing and sometimes the air was "blue" with expletifs {grin]all the neighbours knew each other and looked out for each others children at all times,nanna was the local midwife if one was not available and brought many into the world she was a diamond that lady.
Now once the front door is closed many people don't see or speak to a soul until the next day and week-ends must be so lonely for them,I am lucky having caring children and a hubby but I make sure I converse with my neighbours as much as possible or ask if they need shopping etc its a lonely world out there for a lot of people sadly.

Teedee Fri 19-May-17 12:19:22

Living in a small town on the edge of the countryside in N Ireland in the 1960s my own children were always able to play in the neighbouring fields and street. However sadly all that ended when the Troubles began and it became too dangerous to leave doors unlocked. I will say however, that the neighbourliness described in the previous posts persisted as long as I lived there, possibly because our children had all grown up together. It all ended when I moved home and returned to full time work: regrettably, shortage of time to interact with new neighbours became a fact of life and now, several moves later, we're all afraid to be seen as 'poking our noses into our neighbour's affairs',hence loneliness in the elderly.