Becoming a part of a new community whether it is a small town, or an established neighbourhood in a bigger place where everyone seems to zoom past you, can be hard and intimidating. Recently I heard of a family who were disappointedly moving back to the city after three years of living in our small village, because they were lonely. Husband was at work in the city all day, and Mum was home with the kids and no-one to talk to. On the weekends they stayed at home, alone, or went into the city to socialise. They had moved out here around the same time as us, and I was surprised to hear they hadn’t really met anyone or made friends.
We all hear of the places where you aren’t considered to be a local until your family has lived there for three generations. Don’t let that put you off. There are all sorts of ways to become a member of your new community, and this can only help you love the place you live. Some of these ideas may seem obvious and all of them may seem to require you leaving your comfort zone. That’s OK. Especially in the country, many people won’t come to you because they respect your privacy. Don’t hold it against them – open your door and invite them in – even if you haven’t swept in a while….or is that just me?
1. Join a local team sport – making sure your team is aware of your abilities or lack thereof. I was invited to join the local social netball team despite my protests, and was reassured that skill was not important. I am the worst sport netball player in the world and it didn’t matter at all. I am the better for having met the people I played with and entertained with my complete lack of co-ordination and taking up the invitation was one of the best decisions I nearly didn’t make.
2. Go for walks in your area. Get to know the streets, the lanes, the parks and the cemetary.
3. Use the local business: even if your local corner store is expensive, the paper will be priced the same, so buy the paper there every Saturday morning and learn the guy’s name who sits at the counter.
4. Say ‘Hello’ to people – I am surprised that chatting does not come naturally to everyone (yes, talk to a dead dog underwater with a mouth full of marbles – that’s me). If chatting does not come naturally to you, just start with ‘Hello’. You might be surprised how far it will take you.
5. Wave: it’s OK if people don’t wave back, in my experience, you will wear them down eventually.
6. Smile: Just like with waving and saying ‘Hello’ – whether people return the sentiment or not: YOU’VE put the positive energy out there, their reaction is no reflection on you – it is a reflection on their personal state of mind at the time. This can change.
7. Go to garage sales and chat with the other people browsing or the people running it.
8. If you are in the market for work, seek it locally.
9. Do some volunteer work. In rural centres, just as in city suburbs, there are always groups calling for help: the local volunteer fire brigade, the local school, Landcare, the RSPCA. Find one that interests you and the effort you put in will be rewarded with new skills to learn and people who share your interests.
10. Be involved in local functions – if not by volunteering, then at least by attending. You ARE entitled to have fun, you know, and if it is supporting the local preschool or ponyclub, no-one is going to be disgruntled by you attending!
11. Buy local produce: are there backyard apiarists about, a local vineyard? Support them. Get to know them. Then you can tell visitors about the amazing honey you buy from the people down the road, or you can bring a nice wine to your friend’s dinner party and tell them about the makers.
12. Slow down. Engage with people: at the post office, at the rural supplies shop, in the car park – you don’t have to rush everywhere.
13. Accept help. Don’t be embarrassed to let people know that you are new to a change in lifestyle – everyone had to start somewhere. Our neighbours have become such dear friends, because they were so willing to share their wisdom with us…and we weren’t too proud to accept it. AND be grateful! These are the people that know the best place to get firewood, which hay is value for money, and which tool will make your life (and your back) smoother! Develop strong relationships with these people and they will be the ones to celebrate your successes, check out strangers on your property, and get your washing in when the worst storm in the world is barreling down on you.
14. Nurture the friendships you make. Appreciate them. And offer them all the extra rhubarb/spinach/pumpkins/eggs you have.
15. Find a way for your kids to socialise, either through playgroups for littlies, or sport for the older kids – ask your new acquaintance, the corner shop guy, or the post office lady. Talk to the other parents waiting at the bus-stop; kids are great ice-breakers.
Without telling anyone how to suck eggs, (an old expression of Mums) don’t wait for people to beat a path to your door. I know it is hard to swallow your pride and put yourself out there when *they* all seem to know each other and you are on the back foot, but your future best friends/in-laws/favorite neighbours might be in that bunch, and imagine – one day you will look back and not be able to recall a time when these people weren’t a part of your life. And it won’t seem like you had to do anything so difficult to get there.