Earlier this summer, we asked neighbours to share the best heartwarming stories of neighbours going above and beyond to support their local communities as we kicked off the fourth annual Nextdoor Good Neighbourhood Awards. This year was bigger than any year yet with a record number of nominations flooding in from all corners of the UK highlighting the immense efforts of UK communities.
The winner of the ‘Neighbour of the Year’ is Kerry Lynn in Ballynafeigh neighbourhood, Belfast whose determination and dedication to building community have impacted the lives of many in her local area. We chatted to her about the award and the neighbourhood projects making a difference to her neighbours.
How did you get involved in community work?
“Pre lockdown I only knew a few neighbours, I saw how the community here really helped each other during the pandemic, people would leave books and art materials on my doorstep for my children, it touched me and I wanted to give back”.
“I saw a post on Nextdoor about a local project to introduce some partial and temporary pedestrianisation of the Ormeau Road, one of our main roads here in Ballynafeigh. The idea was very inspiring to me so I raised my hand to help and things moved quickly from there.
I joined a group of volunteers who flyered around the area, gained local insight and got people excited about doing a local community project. At one point we had 200 volunteers!”
“Our original idea didn’t work out but we learnt so much from it and I was determined not to lose the momentum, so we focussed on easier projects that still impacted local communities and maximised local participation.”
What have been your favourite community projects so far?
“For Halloween, we ran a tree trail with eight trees in the neighbourhood. Each tree had a theme, we asked people to decorate the tree according to the theme – it was so much fun”.
“For Winter celebrations, we launched the “Once upon a time in Ormeau” project. The idea was to create a fairy tale of the community coming together. We got funding for fairy lights and wooden cut out animals that we asked local schools, community groups, resident centres and residents of old people’s homes to paint and contribute their stories.”
“The lighting was a theme to “light up the dark year we’ve all been through” and the stories highlighted moments of light in 2020 like “seeing granny for the first time in three months”.
“We picked a handful of locations throughout the neighbourhood and as people walked they interacted with one another, sharing stories and it helped to build connections. One neighbour group liked the festoon lighting so much they asked to keep it and took turns to replace the batteries!”
Why do you enjoy community work? What does it mean to you?
“Community is something that is important for soul and wellbeing just like needing to be in nature. It is that feeling of safety amongst people you are dwelling near.”
“About 18 months ago, one evening I walked home from the park alone and felt a bit nervous but as I walked up to my street I felt my tension ease. I knew that if anything happened, I could run to any of my neighbours, I know the people behind the doors and they would help – you can’t put a price on that.”
“When I think of community I also think of my kids, I want to give them a safe great place to grow up. I think of their future and climate change worries me. Our communities need to come together to create a strong voice that we want change and we need resilience.”
How did you use Nextdoor? How did it help you share your project’s activities?
“We use Nextdoor to get the word out. Every time we do a project we post to encourage people to join in and we post afterwards to get feedback. It’s a fantastic way to spread awareness of our projects and we can reach so many neighbours in one go!”
What would you say to other people considering starting a local project or activity? How could they use Nextdoor to help them?
“My recommendation would be the following:
- Create your communication channel: You could use groups on Nextdoor or simply post to your newsfeed. Your group and community need somewhere to go for updates and knowing how to get involved so keep things up to date.
- Give something away for free: It costs you nothing but means something to someone else and helps to create a sense of reciprocity. It helps to set people at ease and show you have their best interests at heart.
- Encourage participation at whatever level someone wants to give: Participation is important in community projects but you have to be respectful of people’s time and commitment. Perhaps one person’s commitment to a project is simply providing access to their land, or helping with refreshments, every action counts.”
What does winning this award mean to you?
“I work really hard because this work is so important to me, I’m really happy to do this, but it’s lovely to have a wee pat on the back. It helps to have some recognition from the community.”
If you’d like to join your neighbours and kick start local community projects, sign up to Nextdoor here.