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Neighbour Day 2021: How the COVID-19 pandemic shaped community relations

During lockdown, Italian-born Verdiana and her partner found good friends in their neighbours of Filipino background Source: Courtesy of Verdiana Azzarello

The last Sunday in March celebrates Neighbour Day and this year's theme on the 28th March is 'Every day is Neighbour Day!' Despite challenges faced during the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, for some Australians, it has provided a chance to connect to people living next door for the first time.

“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in our heart,” Winnie-the-Pooh once told Piglet.

At a time where the most basic human interactions- such as smiling at each other- have been put to the test during the past months of varying degrees of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, some were able to “cross their fences” for the first time and be there for each other.

"During the lockdown, on a Sunday afternoon we heard a knock on the door; it was our next-door neighbours, who invited us to celebrate a 70th birthday," Italian-born Silvana tells SBS Italian. 

Neighbour Day 2021
Greater neighbourhood identification was associated with better mental wellbeing and perceived access to neighbours’ support, according to an ANU study.
AAP

"They had set up food, drinks and balloons in the hall and we got together – still maintaining due distancing. We felt almost at home, no longer alone here in Australia.”


Key Points:

  • On Sunday March 28 Australia celebrates Neighbour Day, this year's theme is “Every day is Neighbour Day!”
  • Despite physical and emotional challenges, some SBS Italian listeners were able to connect with their neighbours for mutual support;

Silvana and her partner had recently moved to Australia and she confesses her English wasn’t great at the time, saying she was shy to connect with her Australian neighbours.

On the other hand, the elderly couple who invited them could not see their own family members who live far away. 

“Before moving to Melbourne, we were living in Milan. There, neighbours’ relationships are quite cold; everyone is busy working. But we are originally from Apulia, in the South of Italy, a much more relaxed place where the community is more connected," Silvana says.

Neighbours discuss the coronavirus pandemic while practicing a safe distance from each other in Brisbane, March 20, 2020.
Neighbours discuss the coronavirus pandemic while practicing a safe distance from each other in Brisbane, March 20, 2020.
AAP

"After connecting with my neighbours, Melbourne started feeling like my home town.”

The small Melbourne community kept in touch throughout the hard months of lockdown.

"My mum has the lady’s same age; I felt like I was adopted in a way. We mutually helped each other at a difficult time.”

After connecting with my neighbours, Melbourne started feeling like my home town.

Sunday, March 28, 2021, Australia celebrates Neighbour Day.  The theme for 2021 is “Every day is Neighbour Day!” - a reminder to connect to those who live next to us every day, and not only on special occasions.

In the days leading up to the date, SBS Italian invited listeners to share their stories and the response was overwhelming.

Ameeta
Ameeta Francesca and her neighbour Maria working in the garden, Melbourne.
Courtesy of Ameeta Francesca

Ameeta Francesca met Maria through her neighbour Carolyne.

“Maria, who was born in Italy like me, is 92 years old and lives alone. During the pandemic, we have started seeing each other every day.

"We talk, work in the garden, she let me use her veggies to make my favourite Italian recipes. Maria shares with me her memories of our neighbourhood, Northcote, we spend time together. In short, she is somewhat of an unusual friend, but a dear one.”

Social connections between communities

The purpose of Neighbour Day is to encourage social connections between people and communities throughout Australia, as Verdiana did with her neighbours of Filipino background.

"I spend a lot of time at home alone, because my husband works in hospitality, and having them there makes me feel safe. I feel lucky; as well as meeting good neighbours, we have met good friends," she explains.

COVID-19 Anzac Day observed by neighbours.
With COVID-19 restrictions in place for Anzac Day on 25th April 2020, community spirit was evident with many neighbourhoods organising their own observance.
AAP

Roberto also acknowledges that the lockdown prompted him to forge closer relations with some neighbours, especially with an elderly lady who lives next door. 

"We try to take care of each other, a little help sometimes seems like nothing, but sometimes, like during the lockdown, it's most needed.”

I feel lucky; as well as meeting good neighbours, we have met good friends.

Figs
A little gesture, like leaving some fresh figs in front of the next-door neighbour door, can make someone's day like according to an SBS Italian listener.
SBS Italian/Instagram

Fabrizio agrees that lockdowns forged better relationships within the neighbourhood.

He has a neighbour of Maltese origin on one side and an elderly neighbour of Chinese origin.

“She is in her 90s and does not speak a word of English, I do not speak a word of Chinese, but we find ways of communicating like exchanging small gifts, especially chocolate for our kids as well as favours.

"She is everyone's grandmother," he says.

 

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