Who is My Neighbour? – A Christmas Story

Over the years, as manager of Brighton & Hove Neighbourhood Care , I have come across hundreds of examples of good neighbourliness, and seen the benefits of simple acts.  This is why I am so keen to see the Know My Neighbour initiative succeed.

Here is a true Christmas story that I hope will give food for thought before Know My Neighbour really gets moving in the New Year.

Boxing Day 2004, you may remember, was the date of the terrible Asian tsunami.  The week before that Christmas, I introduced a new volunteer, Sonya, a young nurse, to Lily, a 93-year-old woman, whom I had met for the first time the previous month.  Lily was in constant pain from gout and could hardly use her hands.  She was lonely, but suspicious – a former carer from her previous housing had been stealing from residents.  When I got back to the office after the holidays, I rang Sonya to see how things had gone with her visit.  She said fine.  She had been able to write out a cheque for the Tsunami appeal for Lily.  When she had got home, she had thought, “If I can write a cheque out for Lily, I can write one myself.” – And she did.  Hearing this, I thought “Yes!”  An old woman of 93 who cannot leave her room and feels she has nothing to live for can help improve the lives of strangers on the other side of the world, and influence the thinking and actions of a young woman – also a stranger – who has ventured into her world.

Immediately after the tsunami, Hilary Benn, then Secretary for International Development, had said that the tsunami raised the question:  “Who is my neighbour?”   The answer implicit in this rhetorical question was “Everyone.”  It is a big Ask to expect people to be neighbourly to everyone in the world.  But to be neighbourly to the person next to you, or your next-door neighbour, or other people on your street?  This is within the realms of the possible.  And as the story of Sonya and Lily shows, a single action, like a stone dropped in a pond, can send out ripples  – who knows where they might end?  Someone in Sri Lanka or Indonesia will have been helped by the donations of Sonya and Lily. Sonya and Lily continued to see each other nearly every week for the next five years until Lily’s death in 2010.  I think their story still has resonance in 2015.

And in 2016, Know My Neighbour really gets going in Brighton & Hove.  Who knows what the impact might be?

Sean de Podesta
Manager, Impetus Neighbourhood Care Scheme

16 December 2015

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