The motto that Kiwis strived for during the COVID-19 pandemic on Neighbourly was simple but effective: “Stay safe, stay in, be kind, be neighbourly.”
Neighbourly.co.nz is a free New Zealand social media platform owned by the country’s largest media organisation, Stuff. With more than 840,000 members, Neighbourly usually fosters community connections and interaction on topics such as local events, crime and safety, local services, and even lost pets.
That all changed in the shadow of the COVID-19 lockdown as Neighbourly realised its full potential as a way for neighbours to connect with each other during the unprecedented lockdown, which saw people confined to their homes for many weeks.
Neighbourly launched Reach Out, a hub within the main site that encouraged neighbours to offer support and connect with one another when physical interactions were no longer possible. Just like that, site traffic skyrocketed.
With more than 500 new users per day signing up to Neighbourly.co.nz over the month of April and a 50% increase in daily users of the site, Neighbourly soon became a prime place in which to keep the community heartbeat strong. Members also took it upon themselves to localise their own community response to the pandemic with more than 110 hyper-local COVID-19 support groups created by members.
These private groups allowed members to connect with each other in a mini-hub within their own communities. Many came up with their own ways of staying in contact with each other, including by phone, online messages, and video calls.
Amazing stories of random acts of kindness and neighbourly connections seemed endless. Neighbours offered emergency accommodation for stranded travelers, people gifted hand sanitiser, and others simply gave away items to members who could not get to an essential service provider.
The power of Neighbourly’s Reach Out is evident in the story of Ros, a 79-year-old woman from Christchurch who was feeling isolated and abandoned. She relied on three community meals for her social connection, but all were canceled as a result of the pandemic. Making up for the lost meals was not easy for her, with many essential products out of stock.
“The long-life milk I buy [from the supermarket] was all gone, no rice, no sugar, no sanitizer. The list goes on. How can I get the produce I need?? Getting to the supermarket is a challenge at the best of times,” she wrote on Neighbourly.
Ros’ plea received replies from 160 users with offers to pick up her groceries and talk to her through the window or by phone.
“Those connections are really important. I’ve had strangers connecting through to me, and I think that alone is huge, just having someone there,” she says. Ros was overwhelmed by the kindness extended to her and hopes others will reach out if they need support, too.
Responding to the opportunities presented by COVID-19 has been a whirlwind experience for the Neighbourly team, who were proud to have played a part in maintaining positivity and morale within local communities, all while growing the site.
If there is a silver lining to the crisis, it’s the way Neighbourly helped connect communities that otherwise may have been isolated, putting neighbours back into the neighbourhood.