Do you know your neighbour? Should you know your neighbour? Across Ireland, volunteer members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are invited into peoples’ homes to hear the stories of families and individuals struggling for one reason or other, and assisting with food, energy, education or other costs, as well as providing a listening ear and a sense of ‘kinship’. The members who visit people in their homes aren’t necessarily neighbours – and often those seeking assistance prefer not to speak to a close neighbour about such matters. Some SVP members do visit people in their local community while others, particularly in urban areas, visit in areas some distance from their own homes.
Yet the concept of neighbourliness, at its most healthy, appears to be about being aware of other people and responding appropriately, in our communities, whether in townlands or cities, or ‘communities of interest’ – within various groups in our society. The neighbourliness being promoted by Macra na Feirme at their annual ‘Know Your Neighbour’ weekend of the 12th and 13th of July is not about nosiness, invasiveness or gossip. It’s about being mindful of people in our communities, the needs that exist and also about recognising that we all have needs - and at least some stage in our lives will depend upon others beyond our family and for our wellbeing. That support might be provided by a state service, a volunteer from SVP or other voluntary group or indeed a neighbour who lives on the other side of town or even on the same landing of an apartment block.
This year, Macra na Feirme’s theme for the initiative is ‘Neighbours – Near and Far’, linking with friends and relatives in the wider Irish diaspora. Macra is encouraging the development of events to include, among others, neighbours who are now living abroad. In its 9th year, ‘Know Your Neighbour’ is a prompt for communities both rural and urban to consider organising events such as a coffee morning or a larger social event in mid-Summer. This is a time when many community supports may be less active and where groups such as older people or those with long term illnesses, disabilities or caring responsibilities may have less human contact and support than at other times. With staff and volunteers of locally based community services more likely to be away on holiday at his time, it’s important that certain groups do not experience greater isolation or exclusion as a result of Summer arrangements.
Given the recent lovely weather it is all the more reason to host a gathering of some description, reaching out to those who can’t take social events for granted. Its also a time to remember and connect with people we know who live abroad, perhaps as a result of the recent crisis and the impact of austerity measures, particularly in rural areas – which is a big concern for SVP Conferences (branches) in these areas. Macra encourage people to take advantage of online technology like Skype as a way of linking up, and social media is also a very immediate communication tool.
If the weekend of 12th and 13th July doesn’t suit you but you still want to get involved, Macra are keen that events on other days can be considered and that communities take the initiative to come together, have fun and create good memories. A full listing of events are found here.