Today’s tip struck me as I listened to a local coffee roaster talk about his motivation to start a café. He worried about the erosion of local community so he created a hub for the locals and got to know the neighbours – the grocer, the newsagent, the dry cleaner. As I listened to him speak, I thought about how I too cared about the health of local communities, but these days didn’t really play a role in my own.
I am a wandering soul. Every time I come home from a stint abroad it’s a matter of when not if I will go back overseas. So when I am home, I don’t think a lot about “putting down roots”. I’ve been reluctant to sign a 12 month lease let alone sign up to the local neighbourhood committee. Since arriving home from my last overseas job I’ve been registered at four different addresses on the electoral roll.
However, growing up in a tiny country town means that I am fluent in “community”. The lines between community life and personal life were so blurred at my house that once upon a time the local paper was pasted up in my dining room. School fete preparation happened in the kitchen. By preparation, I mean the parents and friends committee would bottle and label port for sale, enjoying generous “tastings” of the 1987 St Mary’s Special Reserve as they worked.
But you don’t need to be born into a community, have kids at the local school, or even live there for more than a few months to be an active member. Drawing on many years of experience, I have come up with five small things we can do to contribute to the health of our own local communities.
1. Smile at your neighbours
It might not be practical to smile at everyone you walk past all the time, but in the streets around your house smile and say hello. You will be surprised and delighted by how many people smile back.
2. Pick up someone else’s rubbish
Take pride in your streets as you would your front garden. When you walk past a plastic bag floating down the street, pick it up and put it in the nearest bin. This is especially easy if, like me, you live in an apartment and don’t have a front garden. I have reserves of energy for home maintenance that I can happily apply to the streets. Your neighbourhood will look better and you will be a shining pillar of the community. An old lady might even see you do it and offer free rein on her lemon tree.
3. Go to the local school fete
I’m sure you’ve noticed those real estate agent signs that instead of reading “Smell the coffee! Inner city living at its best!” they advertise the local primary school fete. Take note of the date and drop in for a few minutes on the way to brunch. Even better, skip brunch and fill up on the sausage sizzle and honey joys.
4. Shop at your local grocers
In the days of supermarket duopolies, Bisphenol A, and myriad other depressing realities of the global food industry, there are plenty of reasons to avoid the large chain stores. In case you need another reason, consider shopping local as an incidental way to build a happy community. Buy your fruit and vegetables from the local grocer, get loving advice on how to roast pork from the butcher, walk down to your local newsagent to buy the weekend paper. I don’t need to tell you this, because I’m sure you do it already. It’s a joyous way to buy your consumer products.
5. Make yourself at home
The ultimate tip for building a happy community – embrace the position you acquired as soon as you moved in. You are a member of your local community, just as much a part of it as anyone else with the same postcode. You’ve got a network of people around you who care about the streets you live on, which is pretty nice when you think about it.
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