Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Neighbours turn street into family

Beach Haven's 'notorious Taurus' is transformed into a much safer place as community bands together

Taurus Cres adults Jenny Keown (left) Lisa Faatele, Nora Lepoalii and Maci Lemeki with local children. Photo / Richard Robinson
Taurus Cres adults Jenny Keown (left) Lisa Faatele, Nora Lepoalii and Maci Lemeki with local children. Photo / Richard Robinson

A flying-fox and a lollipop shop were among the first items suggested when the children of Taurus Cres were asked what they wanted in their local park.

At the time, two years ago, the "park" was little more than a vacant section with swings and monkey-bars at the top of the street which circles down around a hilly part of Beach Haven on Auckland's North Shore.

Its 100-odd homes were built as state houses in the 1970s. Fashion design student Lisa Faatele, who moved into the street as a child in 1980, said it was "known as a bit of a rough street". Some called it "Notorious Taurus".

Inspector Mark Fergus, the district community policing manager until recently, said that in 2010 it was "experiencing a high level of burglary for a small street" - 10 burglaries in a year.

Business journalist Jenny Keown, who bought one of the houses with her husband Mike three years ago, said they were burgled six months after moving in.

"I had a little baby. That was not nice," she said. "I was one of a number around that time who were being burgled, being new in the street."

Two and a half years later, the street is a different place. The park has had a complete makeover. There's no lollipop shop yet, but there is a new flying-fox as well as a new slide, other play equipment and a log-hewn seat big enough for half a dozen parents to share as they watch their children playing.

And socially, people have stopped feeling isolated and started feeling like neighbours. They have set up a residents' group with a Facebook page and occasional newsletters, they hold barbecues in the park and have formed a youth group and a preschool play group which moves from house to house.

They are a model now for the country's third national Neighbours Day, a project which encourages New Zealanders to get to know their neighbours this weekend.

"We know that isolation is a key indicator of poor health," said project manager Rebecca Harrington. "We are not meant to do life on our own, we are meant to be in relationships with others. And when we are connected to where we live we also value our natural surroundings more."

Neighbours Day has grown out of a 2007 decision by the Takapuna Methodist Church to put the income from leasing out part of its property into looking for ways to build a more "inclusive" community.

It joined with the Methodist social agency Lifewise and employed Mrs Harrington on a three-year contract.

She consulted widely and came up with a project initially called "Know Your Neighbours". Police, and a call from a local resident, identified Taurus Cres as an area needing better connections, and in 2011, Mrs Harrington and Neighbourhood Support North Shore chairman John Stewart door-knocked to gauge interest.

Locals such as Ms Faatele and Ms Keown jumped at the chance and the residents' group took shape. The Kaipatiki Local Board backed them with $45,000 for the park.

Inspector Fergus said there was "a dramatic drop in crime in the street". Ms Keown said crime fell as soon as people started watching out for each other.

"I think people know now that this area is not as disconnected as it was, and people know each other, and they have got to be really stupid to try anything here because people are watching," she said.

"The kids know each other and they are on the lookout, too," Ms Faatele added. "We are not just a street, it's more like a family."

Neighbours Day

What: A project to encourage New Zealanders to get to know their neighbours.

How: Invite your neighbours over for a cup of tea, barbecue, street party - or just say hi over the fence.

When: This weekend, March 23-24.

Where: Started on the North Shore by the Takapuna Methodist Church and Methodist social agency Lifewise; now nationwide.

Website: www.neighboursday.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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