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Let's start loving thy neighbours.

Byline: Sue Carroll

I'M sitting here listening to my neighbour's children jumping about on their new trampoline.

It could be a cause of immense irritation but I find their laughter reassuring - because, for years, I lived in a London street where the person living next to me could have had two heads for all I knew.

Neighbourliness is not a feature of urban life in London, initially a shock to a Northerner like me who knew the name of everyone in the street where I grew up.

Now, according to a survey, it seems the entire nation has got out of the habit of talking to the people living next door and the notion of chatting over the garden fence is practically obsolete. At one time we'd refer to the reluctant neighbour who kept a cool distance as someone who liked to "keep theme selves to themselves". These days it's the norm. We lock the door, not to keep ourselves in but the rest of the world out.

Meanwhile, thousands, bizarrely, call the acquaintances they meet on Facebook "friends".

Every day I receive emails from total strangers asking to be their Facebook friend. Why? How desperate do you have to be to want someone you've never met to be a mate?


Sadly, that's the point. Children, with access to mobile phones and the internet, now believe it's no longer the quality of friendship which matters but how many "friends" they can accumulate.

Small wonder, living in such splendid isolation, a third of people in Britain today say they feel lonely.

It's been claimed we're a less buttoned-up society than we were but it strikes me the very opposite is true. We've lost the art of communicating, which was second nature to our grandparents, who would bake one cake for themselves and another for the less well-off family down the road. It was charity in its purest form without being condescending or pitying. In the impoverished area of Newcastle where my gran raised seven children she would be called on to lay out the dead, that's what good neighbours did. Yet this survey, carried out by YouGov, reveals the majority are more likely to consider neighbours pests and certainly not inclined to raise a finger to help them.

How did we get to this? One reason, I suspect, is because people are full of apprehension, constantly feeling they can't trust others. Too many communities, ruled by street gangs and thugs, have turned inwards, becoming nervous and cowed. And we're scared to intervene when we suspect domestic abuse or if a child is being neglected, fearing we'll be accused of being nosey parkers.

It's a real sign of the times that we need to be enticed into Good Neighbour schemes, when this is something that should evolve organically with interference or cajoling. Those blessed with good neighbours understand what it means to know there's someone to turn to when we're ill, feeling down or just fancy a glass of wine and a gossip.

In the forthcoming weeks and months, which the PM repeatedly reminds us will be painful, neighbours could well be our salvation.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 15, 2010
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