Community spirit returns to Bay
Bay of Plenty Times
The numbers of Neighbourhood Support Groups were already swelling before the quake, as people sought to reconnect with those over the fence.
But the disaster has seen even more people seeking to start or join a group. The quake highlighted the importance of knowing your neighbours - if disaster strikes they could help you with basic needs when official help could be days away.
More than 10,000 Western Bay households, from Katikati to Te Puke, now belong to Neighbourhood Support groups - an increase of 1200 since the same time last year.
Papamoa is the strongest area, with 2700 households belonging to 222 different groups. Three or four new groups start in the coastal suburb every week, and start-up meetings are also booked back-to-back in Tauranga, Tauranga South, Katikati and Te Puke.
Tauranga police Constable Steve Campbell, police liaison for Neighbourhood Support, said numbers were expected to grow.
"I think something like [the earthquake] refocuses us on the importance of a tight community network," Mr Campbell said.
"Whenever there's a major incident, whether it's a natural disaster like we had in Christchurch, or whether there's a spate of burglaries or thefts from cars, the community does become a little bit more aware of their vulnerability.
"Neighbourhood Support is a very good platform for them to do something about it.
It's a good place to get to know your neighbours, and the community benefits ultimately because you are looking out for each other.
"We can support and rely on each other, whether it's localised crime or a natural disaster like in Christchurch. [Neighbourhood Support] is an ideal mechanism for Civil Defence to get information out very rapidly."
This weekend is Neighbours Day Aotearoa - designed to encourage people to talk to their neighbours. It's an initiative that wouldn't have been needed 20 or 30 years ago, when people knew their neighbours.
"A lot of people aren't aware of who lives next door," Mr Campbell said.
"We all lead busy lives with the day to day grind and we are focused on what we immediately have to do. We sort of lose touch.
"We have gone a long way from the social responsibility that we all should have. We all need to take on responsibility for what's happening in our community, and not just isolate ourselves from what's going on next door."
In the wake of the earthquake, Tauranga City and the Western Bay District Council's joint Emergency Management Office operations manager Alan Pearce urged people to get to know their neighbours.
"Talk to your neighbours ... get involved in a bit of neighbourhood planning as a community. Even better, find out where your local neighbourhood support group is and join."
People are heeding the call, Papamoa Neighbourhood Support coordinator Lorraine Stevens said.
"We have had phone calls and we are finding people are quicker to respond to letter box drops and say they will start a group, because Christchurch is uppermost in their minds.
"A big part of it is just knowing your neighbours and what their needs are. It's really nice to walk out in the street and everybody knows everybody."
Papamoa Neighbourhood Support has grown by 78 per cent in a year, and 37 per cent of all homes in the area are part of a group.
Mrs Stevens said it was a sign of the times that most people did not know their neighbours before they joined the group. And it was sad that it took an event like the earthquake to bring people together.
"I find regularly when I do the meetings that nobody knows any of their neighbours. It's sad.
"But when we walk out the door, the place is buzzing, they are all talking to each other."
Neighbour Support, she said, was about "going back to old principles".
"It's trying to get back to what we had years ago, when everyone knew their neighbours," Mrs Stevens said.
In a natural disaster such as an earthquake or tsunami, the people who live next door or across the street could be the only ones in a position to help you.
"It's about people utilising their skills and getting closer.
"If you have got a Neighbourhood Support Group you have got a person in that street, the street coordinator, that you can go to [if you need help]."
Mrs Stevens said there were many lonely people in the community and Neighbourhood Support gave them a point of contact.
The organisation was about encouraging people to come together, she said.
"I always say it's not about being the Ena Sharples of the street, the busy-body of the street. It's knowing who's in your street, who should be there and who shouldn't be there.
If you think there's someone there who shouldn't be, it's not okay to do nothing."
If you want to join or start a Neighbourhood Support group, phone your local community constable. See www.ns.org.nz
Neighbourhood Support is looking for a coordinator for Tauranga and sub-coordinators for suburbs. Phone your community constable if interested.