Strong communities and friendly streets are also a factor in reducing crime, says Neighbourhood Watch chief executive Bambi Gordon. “If people know each other and recognise who should be there and who shouldn’t be there, that pro-social lens is a far more powerful thing than an isolated household with CCTV cameras.”
The Neighbourhood Watch community-based crime-prevention program, which is supported by RACV, highlights the symbiosis between the quality of life within a neighbourhood and minimising crime.
“Just knowing your neighbours again is such a big thing,” says Bambi. “Seven out of 10 cars stolen in Victoria are stolen using their own keys, usually taken from the kitchen or hallway.”
She cites a recent study by criminologists from the University of Sydney and Monash University that surveyed nearly 3000 residents from across 70 Victorian communities on their worries about crime. It found social activities – like talking with neighbours or joining a community group – can help make people feel significantly safer.
“It’s also important for the elderly, and for families with children, to know their neighbours in order to feel secure. Research shows that children who know their neighbours and are connected to their community feel happier and safer.”
The link between strong neighbourly connections and wellbeing and security is not news to Charis White Vanaelst and Linda Chilcott who have lived across the road from each other in Northcote for 16 years, and share a close family friendship and a history of dinners, holidays, child-rearing and lockdown lasagne. “We live in each other’s pockets,” says Charis, 42. “I just really can’t imagine life without them.
“Being Canadian it took me a long time to plug in to Melbourne and Linda just took me under her wing,” says Charis. “She and her husband Reg and their two boys have literally been my family here.”
Linda, 64, is clearly the kind of neighbour who always looks out for others (as is Reg, who has a reputation as the street’s go-to handyman). Her bond with the newcomers was forged when she stepped in to offer help with her nursing skills over Charis’ fretful first baby.
Linda’s now-adult sons Jarrod and Blake are like brothers to Charis and her husband Rohan. Charis’ children Andersen, 12, and Lucia, nine, are Linda and Reg’s “extra” grandkids on top of their biological two. “They refer to us as their grandparents across the road, which is lovely,” says Linda.