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December 16, 2015

She did it

Just do it. A clever little catchphrase dreamt up by some high powered creative to make us buy a particular brand of sports shoe. It’s also a phrase that speaks a universal truth. So often we have an idea to do something but which gets quickly filed away in the ‘for another day’ box. One woman wondered what would happen if she made a conscious effort to be a good neighbour to those who lived around her. Unlike most of us she didn’t discard that thought, and for six months made a record of everything that flowed from just doing it. 


Joseph Rowntree Foundation

How well do you know your neighbours? Enough to nod hello of a morning? To drop in for coffee, now and then? To help with shopping when it’s icy underfoot? Perhaps you wouldn’t recognise them at all. Most of us live surrounded by other people. But many of us still feel lonely, especially as we grow older. And, as we age, more of us need some support, whether that’s with everyday chores or in a crisis. What if we felt closer to those we live nearest to? If we were ready to help each other – and could spot when someone needs support? What if we all simply decided to be better neighbours? What would that look like?

This is the story of one woman’s bid to be a Good Neighbour. She asked herself: What can I do to make my neighbourhood a kinder place? The Good Neighbour lives in the kind of home many of us do. She’s passionate about helping others and that’s at the heart of her working life. She works hard. Her personal life has its ups and downs. She has some great friends, but they don’t all live close by. Most days, the people she sees are those who just happen to live next door. She noticed how simple acts, like taking in a parcel, began to connect people around her. Could this lead to something richer? A neighbour’s husband died. Could she help the widow through bereavement? People close to her struggled as they moved to the end of their lives. She believed there must be a better way.

The Good Neighbour didn’t know what she might do or where she would end up, but she wanted to give it a go. So JRF gave her a recorder and, from Easter Sunday to Halloween, she kept an audio-diary. Now we’ve written her observations up here. This isn’t a formal project. There was no budget and no plan, no objectives, no evaluation. It’s one person working things out as she goes along. We’ve changed the names and places to respect people’s privacy. But the story is a real one, told from the heart. It didn’t always go quite as the Good Neighbour expected. Read on to find out what she discovered hidden in the small matters of everyday life.