One of the many people I admire is a fiercely intelligent woman whose business is in running a large NGO (like an absolute boss). I asked her one day what she would do if she could have her time again. She replied that she would get to know all of her neighbours and maybe throw a street party. That she would start from there within her own community.

Living in a great community is absolutely life changing. Unfortunately such great communities seem to be an endangered species. People are living in big cities, connected to the world like never before, but more isolated and lonely than ever. Instead of popping in to our friends houses in the evenings we’re sat in front of computers and televisions, or stuck inside our own heads. We might not even look up from our phones long enough to notice that the people around us are not okay.

As I was talking about in my last blog, the quality of life in a smaller community is very appealing. However, many of the smaller communities in New Zealand are hard to staff with permanent doctors. Better pay isn’t enough to attract people and their families to move to these areas. We also need to think about supporting the community as a whole and ensuring there are good educational opportunities and recreational activities to attract young families. And perhaps we just need more opportunities to show people how good it feels to belong to a great community.

The community spirit here in Orkney is vibrant and inspiring. It’s hard to keep track of all the events and festivities there are on offer, and everyone comes out to get involved. The folk music scene is thriving, and it’s a delight to see an amazing range of ages playing at the folk club meet-ups (at the pub). It’s definitely ‘cool’ for young people to play folk and they’re there along side 90-year-olds and everyone else in between! A lot of Orcadians move back to the isles with their young families and I can definitely see why. Orkney was in fact named the best place to raise children in Scotland according to a recent survey carried out by the Bank of Scotland.

What has been particularly striking is the way the Orcadians take care of each other. When I ask the oldies what kind of help they get around the house, it’s not uncommon to hear “Me boy dresses me in the morn, and me other lad cooks me meals” – without a mention of formalised “home help”. If elderly folk don’t have family living locally, there is an organisation that buddies them up with an able bodied stand-in who will ensure they get a visit if they’re admitted to hospital, and will check up on them once they’ve been discharged home. It’s really simple things, but I get the impression it would be quite hard to feel alone in Orkney.

I’m wondering if this kind of community spirit is something we can create?  Or does it need to be built through many generations as a way of life? How can we bring our communities back together and show people that they’re not alone? Perhaps we just need to throw a street party and get to know our neighbours.