Neighbourhood 'peace of mind
by Seamus Boyer
"One of our group members had lost their dog and was trying to find it. So they emailed the group to say it had escaped and that it would be great if people could keep a look out for it.
"When children four doors down woke up and found a dog outside their window they knew exactly where it had come from and returned it. It was fantastic."
Mrs Bunny is the Neighbourhood Support group contact for nine homes on Loopline West in rural Masterton.
She joined the organisation in September 2009, and said belonging to the group had improved her peace of mind and brought her street closer together.
"We've got to know each other really well. It's got to the stage last year where we had a pot luck tea with 100 per cent turnout."
She said as well as knowing others were looking out for your house when you were away or feeding your pets, the scheme was a great way to reconnect with lost community values.
"It's just like things used to be, when everyone knew their neighbours, and looked out for everyone. And people really like that."
Masterton Neighbourhood Support coordinator Sam Andrews-Paul said the scheme worked by protecting communities through an increased awareness of what was going on around them.
She said two years ago there were just 60 Masterton homes involved in the Neighbourhood Support scheme.
Now there are more than 700, an enormous lift in participants and a measure of how popular the community scheme has become.
Every 8-10 days she sent out an email to each group detailing locations of recent burglaries and car thefts.
She said the beauty of the system was in its simplicity, with email also helping to connect people quickly and easily.
"People can say 'Hey, I'm away for the next couple of days, can you watch my house, please.'
"It's not something where we want to have a big group meeting or anything."
Instead, after an initial meeting at one member's house, groups were encouraged to meet about once a year to renew acquaintances or bring up new business.
She said bringing neighbours together not only helped to keep crime down by extra community vigilance, but came with a great social spinoff.
"Putting out the recycling becomes a very social activity."
Ken Sadler, group contact for 19 homes on Pownall St South, agreed.
"[The group's] become closer and closer.
Prior to the group the neighbours weren't even waving to each other. Now we know everyone."
He said it was not about imposing on anyone in the group either.
"We're not living in each other's houses but we just look out for each other."
Mr Sadler signed up to the scheme in 2008, and immediately became the group contact, distributing information to the group and acting as a first port of call to the other group members and to Mrs Andrews-Paul.
He said the focus was just as positive as negative.
"We have a tendency to think of Neighbourhood Support as all about crime. But there's so much more to it than just crime. There's help in emergencies, feeding other people's pets, [assisting] neighbours to hospital."
Another group contact, Sue Braggins, who coordinated 13 homes on Stout St North, said it was better to sign up for the scheme before something happened rather than after.
She said as well as keeping everyone in the loop on crime prevention her group recently hosted a meeting with the fire service where they were shown a DVD on just how quickly a house fire could spread.
She said the group was a good outlet for her.
"I'm just one of those people who like to help and I like to get involved in organising it."
Mrs Andrews-Paul said anyone who wanted to join up could contact her on (06) 378 8900, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
She said she primarily dealt with Masterton but could assist others in Wairarapa if they wanted information about starting up a group.