Neighbourhood Watch originated in the sixties in the States as a community response to the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York. People became outraged after reports that a dozen witnesses did nothing to save Genovese or to apprehend her killer. Some locals formed groups to watch over their neighborhoods and to look out for any suspicious activity in their areas.
Jane Jensen was a police officer in Canada in the 70's and saw the potential of the Neighbourhood Watch movement.
When she first came to New Zealand 30 yrs ago she and her family settled in Northcote. Concerned by the lack of social connectedness in her community, she began a Neighbourhood Watch programme in collaboration with the North Shore police which at its zenith saw 2,000 homes in a swathe across Northcote, Birkenhead and Takapuna networked together. Jane later served as councillor for the borough of Northcote on the North Shore City Council.
Thirteen years ago she moved to Orewa, and she now has this story to tell:
“I have lived on my street for 13 years. We have had a fairly non-active neighbourhood watch group. We have fed each others animals, emptied mail boxes and kept an eye out for anything illegal. But as new people moved in they expressed little desire to participate, wanting to keep to themselves.
Our street is a cul-de-sac of about 20 houses. I tried to identify other Christians on the street and located one young woman and an older recluse. People no longer seem to go for walks, or work in the garden so I could see that it certainly was not like in the old days where you could at least greet and communicate with your neighbours.
The Christian lady and myself jointly held a neighbourhood watch meeting a few years ago and some residents came over but did not really express a desire to keep it going. However another neighbour became very active on the street watching for taggers, boy racers and illegal parking and dealt with the community constable and council. Our relationship with our street was poor.
Sadly, the Christian lady became very ill and in spite of treatment was given a year to live by the doctor. She had a young family and a supportive church. It was wonderful that she would pop over and we would pray for her family and her condition. She got worse and worse and it was a common sight to see an ambulance in front of their house.
Obviously church, friends and family came over frequently - however it was so frustrating wanting to help but not wanting to intrude. All I could do was pray.
I found another Christian - the man who monitored the young offenders on our street (that is another story}. One day he mentioned the word 'blessed' and I thought, “Now we have three”. I asked him and found out that he is a believer, though he is not a church attender.
I held another Neighbourhood Watch meeting - still poorly attended but I found another Christian. I approached them both about 'Spirit Watch' and also about praying for the street. We all felt frustrated at not knowing what to do to help.
A week later the lady who was terminally ill asked her husband to ask some of the neighbours if they would help. She wanted to remain at home which meant an intense schedule needed to be drawn up. Her church and one of the neighbours created a viable schedule to keep her home and comfortable and also to assist her husband and two children. Another Christian lady on the street was found - the lady organising the schedule. So now 6 and maybe more are being revealed on our street and we have all been activated by one person asking for help. Working together we have got to know each other better.
My neighbour sadly died and the Christian and unchurched neighbours on the street continued to work for the family, bonding more and more with the family and with each other. We prayed individually for the family. Lunches, transport, housework, laundry, lawnmowing all continued over the next three months.
As life on our street moved on, more events occurred that we could pray for together. Most of the Christians on our street did not attend church and I think they enjoyed linking with the other Christians and experiencing some fellowship and unity with them. So I have found that as I connect with the Christians and we pray for the street and are open to felt needs, we form closer relationships with our neighbours and with each other!
Meanwhile many things began to happen. I spoke to Graeme Gillies, a retired director of my church and Graham Braddock, a close friend and both men pointed to Lleon Downes who heads up the Hibiscus Coast Men of Prayer network and a committee began to take shape.
The Men of Prayer adopted and prayed for the emerging idea of finding and linking Christians on every street to pray for and care about their neighbours. Graeme connected Howard Webb (Love Your Neighbour) with Jane and the committee was established to head up 'Neighbour Network', with the ambitious (but we believe God-given) plan of seeing a lighthouse of prayer-care-share established on every street of the Hibiscus Coast."
To learn more about Neighbour Network, click here.