The Gumtree Blog

Guest blog post – Kevin Harris on Neighbourhoods

Thursday 29 July 2010, by
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Most of us think neighbourliness is important. We feel relaxed when we know the people around us, more anxious if we don’t trust them. It’s natural to be curious about whether we’re more neighbourly or less neighbourly than we used to be, or whether some kinds of street are more neighbourly than others. So what’s the state of our neighbourhoods, now we’re in a recession and facing reduced local services?

Last week I had the privilege of attending a roundtable discussion about new research commissioned by Gumtree.com. Our hosts had gathered a knowledgeable and passionate group of people to explore the issues and come up with suggestions for how services like Gumtree can contribute to neighbourhood life.

The 2010 Gumtree.com State of Neighbourhoods survey found:

–          59 per cent of their respondents said that they had ‘tried to be more neighbourly’ in the last 18 months

–          People who commute long hours tend to know more neighbours than those who commute less or not at all

–          More than 50 per cent of young people say they have become more neighbourly in the last 18 months.

Other studies suggest that neighbourliness may have declined. My guess is that the recession is nudging us to get together for mutual benefit. In an age where neither religion, work, politics or even sport seems to have the power to unite us, companies like Gumtree.com facilitate connections, often between neighbours, through the buying, selling, or swapping of goods and services. Feel free to contribute your own views in the comments below or on the Neighbourhoods blog.

The promising message in the Gumtree.com study is that people want to be more neighbourly: the researchers point to a clear appetite for deeper connections. Neighbourhoods are natural nurseries for the socialising and interactions we have to learn – with friends, family and all the oddballs, dull-duds and colourfuls we come across in life. In the neighbourhood we learn (or don’t) when behaviour becomes anti-social, when interest becomes nosiness, how being concerned differs from curtain-twitching.  We learn how lending or borrowing leads to social connections. Resources like Gumtree.com can help people establish local relationships in precisely this way, and to build on and reinforce them.

The Gumtree.com research confirms that low levels of neighbourliness can be caused by reluctance to ‘intrude’ on others. Keeping a distance out of respect for privacy can be damaging – which is why a few of us have set up 50 Ways To Meet Your Neighbour. Check it out and add your own ideas.

Kevin Harris, Local Level

Local Level provides research and event facilitation in community development with particular expertise in issues to do with information and communication.

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