Neighbour Day: It’s time to reconnect with those around us
Paula Mance, Sam Robinson
Increasingly, Australians are living more disconnected lives than they have in the past, and experiences of loneliness and social isolation are on the rise (Lim, 2018). Developed to counter this, Neighbour Day is a grass-roots community development program that aims to increase social connectedness by encouraging individuals, community organisations and workplaces to connect with people in their neighbourhood. Held on the last Sunday of March each year, the theme of Neighbour Day in 2019 was ‘Loneliness – what neighbours can do to create connections’.
The importance of social connection
It is now widely accepted that loneliness and social isolation are detrimental to the mental and physical health of people, families and communities (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2015; Masi et al., 2011). In various local and international policy debates, contemporary levels of loneliness are being likened to public health epidemics, with recent Australian studies estimating that between one-in-four to one-in-six people experience loneliness in any given year (Lim, 2018; Mance, 2018).
In contrast, social participation has been positively associated with improved overall health and wellbeing. Studies show that people who are integrated within a supportive, trusting and collaborative community are better equipped with resources to improve their health (Berry & Shipley, 2009; Betts Adams et al., 2011). Strong social ties with others may encourage individuals to engage in health-promoting activities such as exercise and may help to buffer the effects of stressful situations (Berry & Shipley, 2009; Betts Adams et al., 2011; Cohen et al., 2000; Cohen & Wills, 1985). Research suggests that social connectedness can encourage feelings of purpose, belonging, identity and security for those who are embedded within social groups and neighbourhoods (Cohen et al., 2000).
The Neighbour Day program was founded in 2003 by Andrew Heslop in response to increasing levels of concern about the disconnection between neighbours in local communities. Since 2014, Relationships Australia, a community-based organisation providing relationship support services nationally, has been steward of the program.
Relationships Australia sees Neighbour Day as an opportunity to remind people of the importance of connection and the responsibility we each have to create well-connected local communities. The Neighbour Day program encourages individuals, families and communities to organise grass-roots events in their community or workplace to help build social connections. It offers a range of practical resources and guidance to support locally hosted events, such as picnics in the park or morning teas, to help bring people together in a safe and inclusive environment.
Since 2016, Relationships Australia has been evaluating Neighbour Day against a range of short- and medium-term outcomes. A follow-up evaluation in 2017 allowed for comparison between the 2016 and 2017 campaigns and showed encouraging results.
The 2017 evaluation suggested that participants in Neighbour Day events in 2016 continued to have ongoing connections with neighbours in the 12-month period between events. Among those who responded to the 2017 post-event survey:
- 80% of respondents who had participated in an event in 2016 reported that they had maintained connections with their neighbours since 2016
- more than 95% reported that they planned on maintaining ongoing contact with their neighbours or community
- 90% reported that Neighbour Day is a useful tool to help people to connect to their neighbours.
The evaluation also showed a growth in participation and engagement in the program. Overall, an estimated 96,000 people attended a Neighbour Day event in 2017, which represents an increase of more than 50% when compared to 2016. Events officially registered online (such as barbeques, picnics in the local park and street parties) increased by 15% to 520 in 2017, and there was increased social media and website engagement.
The Neighbour Day program evaluations provide an insight in to the potential that grass-roots community development programs may have in encouraging social connectedness in local neighbourhoods. Based on what we know from existing research evidence on the links between social connection, loneliness and health, the Neighbour Day program has the potential to contribute to broader efforts to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of people, families and communities around Australia.
How to be involved in future events
Organisations working with communities, or people at risk of becoming socially isolated, are encouraged to promote and join the program in an effort to increase social connectedness. Relationships Australia encourages everyone to access the free resources on the Neighbour Day website to assist them in hosting their own event with the aim of increasing social connectedness in their local community.
Subscribe to Neighbour Day's e-newsletter Verandah for monthly updates and to be notified once the 2019 evaluation findings have been released.
Related resources and further reading
- Neighbour Day
The Neighbour Day website has a range of free resources for participants to host their own event in their local community.
- Engaging communities: What's involved and how it's done
This CFCA webinar described what community engagement involves, how it's done and how it can improve outcomes for children and families.
- Community engagement: A key strategy for improving outcomes for Australian families
This CFCA paper seeks to clarify what community engagement involves, how it relates to other ideas and practices, and the role it can play in improving outcomes for children and families.
- Applying community capacity-building approaches to child welfare practice and policy
This CFCA paper explores the concept of community capacity and uses real-life examples to illustrate the ways in which service providers might apply community capacity-building approaches in their work with children and families.
Baker, D. (2012). All the lonely people: Loneliness in Australia, 2001–2009 (Institute Paper No. 9). Canberra: The Australia Institute. Retrieved from: www.tai.org.au/sites/default/files/IP9%20All%20the%20lonely%20people_4.pdf
Berry, H. L., & Shipley, M. (2009). Longing to belong: Personal social capital and psychological distress in an Australian coastal region (Social Policy Research Paper No. 39). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Retrieved from: https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/05_2012/sprp_39.pdf
Betts Adams, K., Leibbrandt, S., & Moon, H. (2011). A critical review of the literature on social and leisure activity and wellbeing in later life. Ageing and Society, 31(4), 683–712. doi:10.1017\S0144686X10001091
Cohen, S., Underwood, L. G., & Gottlieb, B. H. (2000). Social support measurement and intervention: A guide for health and social scientists. New York: Oxford University Press.
Cohen, S., & Wills, T. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis, Psychology Bulletin, 98, 310–357.
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: A meta-analytic review, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 227–237.
Lim, M. (2018). Is loneliness Australia’s next public health epidemic? InPsych, 40(4). Retrieved from: www.psychology.org.au/for-members/publications/inpsych/2018/August-Issue-4/Is-loneliness-Australia’s-next-public-health-epide
Mance, P. (2018). Is Australia experiencing an epidemic of loneliness? Findings from 16 waves of the Household Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia Survey (working paper). Kingston, ACT: Relationships Australia. Retrieved from: www.relationships.org.au/what-we-do/research/is-australia-experiencing-an-epidemic-of-loneliness
Masi, C. M., Chen, H.-Y., Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2011). Meta-analysis of interventions to reduce loneliness. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15(3), 219–266.
1 Andrew Heslop is the founder of Neighbour Day in Australia and is now a respected ambassador for the event. Andrew is a social commentator and community activist, who has been recognised for his commitment to community internationally. More information about Andrew is available on the Neighbour Day website: https://neighbourday.org/home-page/founder/
2 Evaluations have been conducted for the 2018 and 2019 Neighbour Day events. Results of these evaluations are expected to be available in late 2019.
Featured image was supplied by authors.