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Strengthening community ties begins with your Brussels neighbour

10:04 30/04/2014

Community begins right outside your door
You don’t have to be a sociologist to see it: we live in a society today where initiating relationships with others has never been so complicated. “We as a society have become naturally more withdrawn over time, indifferent to even those who live next door,” explains Serge Vanderheyden. What’s more, this tendency towards anonymity in Brussels neighbourhoods “often leads to mistrust, suspicion and even discrimination of others.”

Vanderheyden is the president of Immeubles en fête, the non-profit organisation behind Belgium’s Fête des voisins (Neighbours’ Day) which will take place on May 16. The event aims to counteract trends of isolation and exclusion in Brussels’ internationally vibrant communities and beyond.

Belgium’s first Neighbours’ Day took place in Brussels in 2003. The event was based on an idea developed by the Parisian Atanase Périfan in 1990, who organised a number of "Paris d'Amis" (friendship challenges) in the 17th district of Paris. These involved anything from organising Christmas dinners for those with no family to carpooling and community day-care. The first “Immeubles en fête" (apartment party) would soon follow in 1999, and arrived in Belgium just four years later.

People need a pretext to meet
More than 550,000 neighbours participated in Belgium's Neighbours’ Day last year, and even more are expected to come out this year. For Vanderheyden, this growing success shows there is real need for such events in our society. Périfan explains: “People today need a pretext in order for things, which may seem natural, to work.” The two agree that Neighbours’ Day exists because people, tired of being anonymous, “want to learn how to live together again.” 

Private partners want to help too
Vanderheyden says, “we are seeing a change in how private partners contribute: instead of using the event as a marketing tool, they are recognising its community value and investing in the project.” Property agency Immoweb, for example, will send food trucks to a lucky few neighbourhood parties. The largest community investor is, however, the coffee brand Douwe Egberts, which will donate up to €2,000 to 50 neighbourhood initiatives throughout Belgium. Participants should visit the Douwe Egberts website and propose a project that would benefit their neighbourhood. “The idea has really taken off,” says Vanderheyden. “Thousands of propositions pop up daily from throughout Belgium, everything from planting flowers to holding a pétanque tournament in the street.” 

Just the beginning
“Obviously, one event is not enough to bring a neighbourhood together,” says Vanderheyden. “That’s why our long-term goal is that bonds formed at a neighbourhood party are maintained all year long. After all, having neighbours you know and trust is important: it's someone we can reach out to, without hesitation, whenever we are in need.”

Plan a party in your neighbourhood!
Want to organise an event in your neighbourhood for this year’s Neighbours’ Day? Here are three simple steps. 

1) Register: Go to Belgium’s Neighbours’ Day website and register your party.

2) Spread the word: Once registered, you can order or download communication materials (posters, invitations, balloons) from the Neighbours’ Day website. Hang the posters around your neighbourhood and start handing out invitations.

3) Have a party! It’s as simple as that. Ok, try to keep in mind that the goal of the party is to make new friendships, so try to encourage yourself and others to meet and exchange with as many people as possible.

Need a little more help planning? Check out this wikihow.

Some neighbourhood meet-up ideas

1) A buffet: An idea dating back to the very first Neighbours’ Day. Every neighbour cooks up something special for others to discover in a neighbourhood buffet! Learn about different cooking traditions and get to know the cook behind the dish.

2) A street party: Work with neighbours and the local commune to close your street and have a party. Rent an inflatable castle for the kids and hold a pétanque tournament.

3) Apartment floor party: Those living an apartment complex without a street available could plan a floor-by-floor apartment party. Drinks on the ground floor, hors d’oeuvres on the first floor, main course on the second floor and dessert on the third!

For more ideas, or to see ideas being proposed in your neighbourhood, head to the Douwe Egberts website.

Or just participate!
Of course, you don’t have to plan a neighbourhood party to attend one. “We hope to get a maximum amount of neighbourhood parties registered and then publish them on our webpage in the beginning of May,” says Neighbours’ Day coordinator Dorothée Melebeck. So keep your eyes peeled.




Written by Kelly Hendricks