It started with a glass of wine on the front porch of a neighbour’s home shortly after her husband had passed away. Joyce was sitting by herself as another street resident and I walked up from the beach.
We stopped to chat, and she produced two more glasses.
We decided we should get together regularly – and why not invite other women in the street?
We settled on the first Friday of every month, 5–7pm. At first, we just asked the women we knew. But then, we decided to do a letterbox drop for the entire street. Why exclude anyone? The more, the merrier.
That was four years ago and our monthly Herbert Street Happy Hour (HHH) talk-fests have a life of their own. The 2018 calendar is fully subscribed, the street Christmas party (men and families allowed to this one) is locked in.
In decades past, we got to know our neighbours through chats over the fence, by saying hello as we worked in our front gardens. But times have changed. People work, too many are time poor, and there are fewer front gardens due to more intensive development. As a result, our lifestyles can be quite isolating, especially for those who are home alone and especially in the colder months when we linger less outside.
Even a once-a-month get-together can be a welcome date on the calendar. It’s a chance to share street/suburb/family news, stay in touch with who’s well and who may be struggling. Socialise. And no transport is required.
We can get anywhere to between 10 and 30-plus at our gatherings. It’s BYO drinks with a plate of nibbles provided. Very simple. Recent advancements have seen an annual calendar, name tags (yes, some memories are better than others) and an HHH sign made by a handy husband to hang over the letterbox – just to confirm the venue.
Isolation is a problem for many – especially as we get older and especially for women who live longer than men. In the biggest ever review of loneliness, conducted in the United States in 2017, researchers concluded that isolation was deadlier than obesity and should be considered a major public health hazard.
They looked at 218 studies into the health effects of social isolation and loneliness across a pool of nearly four million people.
They discovered that lonely people had a 50 per cent increased risk of early death compared to those with good social connections. In comparison, obesity lifted the chance of dying before the age of 70 by around 30 per cent.
Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology in Utah who was involved in the study, said people should be preparing for retirement socially as well as financially, because for many people the workplace was their biggest source of companionship.
“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need – crucial to both wellbeing and survival,” she said.
The solution could be as simple as your version of our Herbert Street Happy Hour.
Do you have a regular catch-up with neighbours?