Linda Colling: Know thy neighbour

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NEVER mind what you call them, do you know your neighbours’ names?

Seventy per cent admitted they don’t know who lives next door a survey has found. And that’s all a sign of the times, people living self-centred lives, caring for no one but number one and their own kith and kin.

Count yourself lucky if you’ve got good neighbours and more to the point can call yourself one.

They are definitely thin on the ground with 51 per cent polled saying they wouldn’t ask their neighbour for help with anything, and only a minority said they’d benefited from neighbourly acts, such as having their bins put back after collection, the loan of tools or an offer to tidy their garden.

So much for community spirit – only six per cent said there was a strong sense in their area,

It all boils down to people today keeping themselves to themselves, perhaps even wary of neighbours.

They pass each other in their cars, come back from work, shut the front door and the world out.

However, it’s not like that everywhere. In certain communities in Sunderland there’s great neighbourliness – hot pies, cakes, tea and sympathy doled out just as they watch out for one another.

Once that was the norm. But now there is not only a decline, but a definite wariness about getting involved. And in some areas you can live there years and still be an interloper like one woman I met whose neighbours’ seven years of silence drove her out of her house in South Hylton.

“I lived there for seven years and people used to look at the floor rather than look at me,” said Judith from Cafe DeVine on Chester Road.

“I was classed as an outsider. They started speaking to me for the first time in seven years and said ‘Are you moving because of me?’ and ‘Why are you moving?’ So I said ‘ Because I don’t like my neighbours.’”

What a contrast to her new neighbours in Plains Farm. The day Judith, a mother of two, moved in six weeks ago, one sent her son to cut the grass and others came out to introduce themselves.

After 28 years she’s got rid of her car since moving to her new abode and explains: “It’s less stress and you aren’t as isolated. Since I have moved I have got a new lease of life.”

But, what a different world it is too when kindly concern meant you could always borrow a cup of sugar and count on genuine neighbourliness.

That’s sadly what’s in short supply now as so many people have no time for them next door, down their street or up their cul-de-sac.

Why? I asked diners in the cafe. Marie Welch, 55, a community support officer from South Hylton, the very place Judith felt shunned, has lovely neighbours.

She reckons fear has people keeping themselves to themselves. “People live in fear of wanting to help people incase it’s taken the wrong way. That’s why you daren’t speak or look at children. You are frightened of what people think,” she said.

The hand of kindness is withheld so often. Student Jasmine Ferguson, 21, who knows her neighbours in Ryhope, said: “You don’t know who you would get. Years ago you used to go round to neighbours on New Year’s Eve, but you wouldn’t dare let random people in your house.”

Not so in Sydney, Australia, said her friend David Carr, 21, a customer service adviser from Silksworth, who believes people here prefer staying in their shell more than those in Oz.

“People in general are much happier there, he said: “They say ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ and even invite you round for a barbecue.”

So sunny side up. That’s why David is heading back down under.

Do tell me if you have sensational neighbours. I’d be delighted to meet them and feature them in the Echo.