A Community of Strangers

You haven’t heard “Puff the Magic Dragon” correctly until you’ve heard it played on a pianola, with twenty screaming cousins, aunties and uncles dancing around.

That’s one of my favourite memories at my grandfather’s place in Dromana.

His name was Raymon Murray Griffiths Greenwood. He was and still is the inspiration behind the name of Greenwood Classic Notebooks and The Greenwood Journal.

A husband to Adrienne for over 50 years, proud father to six beautiful daughters (one of them my mother Elena) and an integral part of so many local communities throughout his life. He impacted so many people around him and his lessons will live on through time. Below is a shot of my fiancee Marlee, Ray and I moments after Marlee and I got engaged in 2015.

Sam, Marlee and Ray

During the 1980’s, Ray helped form the “Dad’s Army”, a group of local Dad’s that came together to build the local parish and community into what it is today. They even had time to cement each other’s driveways. The community was at the heart of everything they did and at the heart of Ray’s life.

Cut to 2018, and we’ve never been more connected thanks to the internet, yet we’ve never felt more alone. I for one have no idea who my neighbours are or what they even look like, and I live in a block of flats with about 100 people in London. 

I’ve always valued connection with other people, no doubt you do also - I want to get that community connection back.

From my time as part of my local basketball association, I’ve seen the value of community. I made many lifelong friends there. But still, having a connection with my neighbours is something I haven't experienced since I was growing up.

Here are some tips from community and happiness expert Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Institute in Copenhagen about how to build connections with neighbours and the broader community. I’ll be writing more about the Danes take on happiness in an upcoming Journal. 

1. Establish a shared library - whether, in your staircase or your front porch, everyone has space for 5-10 books to form a shared library. A window ledge, on top of the fire hydrant, next to your front door. We all have a few books we haven’t touched in a while, they might be of use to someone else. Grab them, write a nice little sign and off you go.

2. Use the soft edges - to help encourage interaction amongst neighbours, or even just to put yourself in a position to have conversations, use the spaces which might offer some light and comfort in a common area, to read, write or relax. You’ll be surprised by the conversations you’ll strike up.

3. Build a community garden - I’m no green thumb (my cousin Paul is though) but from what I’ve heard a community garden is a fantastic initiative to bring the street or block together. You can always start basic and build from there. I’ll be honest, this is one I’m yet to try.

4. Start a tool sharing program - today Marlee and I needed a bike pump which we didn’t have. So we went a bought one, costing me money for something we'll use very little. I also have a bunch of other tools I use once in a blue moon. Grab a cork board, outline the tools you have and maybe don’t have - get people to contribute to creating a shared program.

5. Join a local community program - sports, charity, council or any other local project. Not only do these places provide a sense of community, but you also build new connections and friends you never had before - this one is my tip.

Below is my small shared library which I've set up. It started with about five books, and different people have added to it already. I'm currently borrowing Woody Allen's Complete Prose.