In 2006, Leanne’s Mom Julie was pretty excited that Leanne and I were going to move in to her childhood home with our baby girl. Spending time at the house preparing it for our arrival or arranging things with the out-going tenants, she would tell any neighbour she saw, “my daughter and son-in-law are going to live here!”.
We’re not really any more outgoing than the next couple, but Julie made it easy to meet our neighbours. They all knew who we were and said hello.
In Japan, when you move it is customary to go around and visit your neighbours with a small gift. We did that but that first Christmas, Leanne also decided to invite our neighbours over for a party.
We were surprised to learn that several had never really met each other even though they had been living practically next door for years.
The following summer, Leanne applied for a Block Party grant from the District of Maple Ridge and we hosted a barbeque in our yard and on our street. We blocked off the traffic. There was a “free-cycle” –a place for people to put stuff they didn’t need that someone else could take home.
As Maple Ridge got more into neighbourhood development, the District hosted a workshop with Jim Diers about community development. It really inspired Leanne and I as well as those neighbours who came out.
Together we started talking about getting the community of Hammond together. We had discussions about forming a community association. There had been one in the past, with an executive structure, etc. but it seemed to have dissolved and there was still some personality conflicts lingering.
I suggested the simple name “Hammond Neighbours”. No “Association”. No “Community League”. No obligation to be anything but a group of neighbours who want to connect and make the community better. So far, it has continued in this way with no formal structure.
It also seemed to me that a Facebook group would be a natural asset to help us connect. A few people were opposed to the idea, at least in part because not everyone is on Facebook. It’s a good point, but I couldn’t see how it would hurt.
Today, the Facebook group “Hammond Neighbours” has over 500 members. In such a small community, that is huge. It is an “open group” which on Facebook means anyone can see who is a member and read what is posted. You only have to join if you wish to comment or post. (so go ahead and take a look)
That 500 people want to engage, and not simply read passively, is inspiring.
To address the problem that not everyone should have to join Facebook to share in the love, one neighbour, Jennifer Zickerman created a corresponding website, hammondneighbours.ca which links to the Facebook group very nicely.
These communications tools have drawn praise from all over, including Jim Diers, other neighbourhoods in Maple Ridge, and staff and council of the District.
One of our most important secrets to success is our simple rule for interaction in the group, which can be reduced to, “don’t be a jerk.” When I first came up with that wording, I was concerned that it was too crass and negative. However, I think we all know when we are being a jerk, and when one of the group’s awesome admins calls someone out for disrespect, rudeness, discrimination, slander and the like, the person almost always understands what we’re talking about. We have banned a few people, but only after a couple of warnings and not over trifles.
The other secret of success that Leanne noted early on, is that Hammond Neighbours was born out of positivity.
Many community groups emerge to tackle a particular issue: a proposed development or traffic problems for example. Once that issue is dealt with, there can be a feeling that the group has served its purpose and people lose interest. Furthermore, anyone who does not agree with those who created the group will not join and a rift has been created in the community, where a chance to unite existed.
Jim Diers’ workshop inspired us to form around the idea that when neighbours get together, everything improves. At first, people may wonder if there is a hidden agenda, but when they realise there is none, soon the ideas start flowing.
Hammond Neighbours have achieved a lot in a few short years. It is important to remember that websites and social media are just tools and deserve only a small amount of the credit. They just make it easier and faster for people to make the connections that were waiting to happen.
All this success led me to believe that it is possible for a number of homeowners to unite to improve their homes at the same time and save money.
I have spent some time pushing this idea and I still believe it can happen. Maybe our house will have to lead the charge instead of benefiting from the savings ourselves. It looks like someone has to make the first move.