Why did 5 vegans, a Deaf person, a child with autism, a Christian evangelist, and 2 people with face tattoos cross the road? (2023)

Why did 5 vegans, a Deaf person, a child with autism, a Christian evangelist, and 2 people with face tattoos cross the road? (1)

Since our next door neighbour Bob had lost his wife of 60 years in January, the nine of us who live in my co-housing community had been planning to organise a social street BBQ with Bob in mind. We knew he’d been feeling really lonely since Bev’s passing and that he loved nothing more than a beer and a chat with the neighbours.

Sadly, Bob passed away a few weeks after Bev, before we’d even got to making the invitations to the BBQ. (I’ve written more about Bob and what I learned from him here.) I would have expected Bob’s passing to have curbed our enthusiasm for organising the BBQ. But to my surprise, it didn’t. And so it got me thinking more deeply about what was really compelling us to organise it in the first place.

I don’t know about you, but people like Bob - older people living alone in the community - is who comes to mind first when I think about loneliness. But the stats show us that this isn’t who’s most lonely! Although living alone is a risk factor for loneliness, older people aged 65+ are actually the least likely to report loneliness by a long shot!

Why did 5 vegans, a Deaf person, a child with autism, a Christian evangelist, and 2 people with face tattoos cross the road? (2)

Loneliness is impacting 1 in 4 Australians, and has significant impacts on physical and mental health. It has even been linked with premature death.


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And while that all sounds pretty doom and gloom - perhaps even overstated - I suspect that a lot of us are feeling the impacts of our loneliness problem creeping into our own lives.

So even though part of me wants to say that I was organising a BBQ for my neighbours who might be lonely to do a good thing for my community… I have to be honest and confess that I am no altruist. I get lonely too; and this exercise in building connection on my street was as much for me as for anyone else.

And I am SO glad we did it. Organising a social event for my street has helped me feel more safe and at home in my neighbourhood, and I’ve at least doubled the amount of neighbour chats I get to have each time I walk my dog around the block.

I’ve learned about some Vietnamese vegetables I can grow in my suburban front yard, I’ve improved my Auslan from chatting to my neighbour who is Deaf, and I’ve got an invite to swim in the only pool that exists on my street.

Of course a street BBQ isn’t the only answer to our loneliness. And as with every suggestion I make in Practical Politics, I encourage you to connect with your values to decide whether this idea is right for you or not.

But, if you do want to be less lonely (and maybe even live longer!) by way of street BBQ, then let me share with you some advice for hosting your own.

How you could host your very own street BBQ

While I was the one who assumed the role of street BBQ project manager, I certainly wasn’t the only person involved - the others in my co-housing community all contributed and it really was a team effort. And this leads me to my first tip:

  1. If you already know a neighbour or two, see if they would be up for organising the BBQ with you. This will help spread the load, and guarantee that at least a few other people will turn up on the day which takes some anxiety out of the whole thing!

  2. Make an invitation with all the information about your BBQ. Mine featured:

  • Some elite stick drawings

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  • The time and date of the event

  • The location of the event

    • We chose a park that was walking distance from our street, and which had a little playground for kids. It didn’t have a BBQ which would have been good, but we had 2 BBQs we could wheel down so that worked for us this time.

  • What to bring along (we did fully BYO so we didn’t need to know numbers beforehand)

  • My name and phone number in case anyone had any questions

Why did 5 vegans, a Deaf person, a child with autism, a Christian evangelist, and 2 people with face tattoos cross the road? (3)
  1. Print and deliver the invitations.

  • One of us printed them off at work (definitely not me if you’re my boss and you’re reading this!)

  • Then we got out a map and decided which households we were going to invite. (we pretty much stuck to people with the same street name as us, plus a few extras we already knew from other streets)

  • We printed the flyers and assigned each of the organising crew an area of houses we were going to invite

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  • We decided to knock on the doors of our neighbours to invite them in person if they were home. This was probably my favourite part of the whole thing. It was great to have a nice reason to knock on the doors of the neighbours. So many of them were so pleased to be invited and were more than happy to stop and have a chat for a while

  1. It’s BBQ day!

  • We wheeled down the two BBQs we had and a folding table, as well as a badminton set and a couple of lawn games

  • We bought a cheap pack of meat and vegetarian sausages as a backup for anyone that forgot food too, even though we told everyone to BYO. They ended up going to a few kids who wandered through the park and asked for one. (Then we had a fairly steady flow of kids wanting sausages after that as new news of free sausages made its way around the neighbourhood kid grapevine.)

  • After the BBQ we packed up, took everything home again and did a quick check for rubbish

  • If, like ours, your street BBQ has no agenda other than making new connections, and no religious affiliations you will need to clarify this! People will assume you’re the Jehovah’s Witnesses when you knock on their door unless you tell them that you’re not. If you are the JWs then your BBQ intentions will be assumed so you’re all set.

  • You may need to be prepared to have some conversations with neighbours about accessibility, and come up with solutions together to make sure everyone can be included.

    • One of my neighbours was concerned they wouldn’t be able to walk the distance to the park and didn’t have a car, so we organised to pick her up and drive her down on the day.

    • Another neighbour texted me after receiving the flyer to say that they were Deaf, and concerned about how they would be able to communicate at the event. So we organised to meet after work one day before the BBQ so he’d know a friendly face if he came, and we also invited his hearing son who lived around the corner to the BBQ too. I was very glad that I could recall some of the minimal Auslan I learned in a beginners course a few years ago! (And definitely also had a frantic brush up on Youtube and the Auslan Signbank before I went to meet him!)

So there you go! I hope this has given you some ideas about where to start if you decide that you’d like to become a champion of community connection using the underrated power of a sausage in bread.

And if you’ve organised a street party or a street BBQ before, I’d love to hear your experience of it your context. Are there any tips you’d add to the list?

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Thanks for reading Practical Politics. My blog about small scale political action for ordinary people.

As always, this is not how you should live your life, but how you could live your life.

So please, take what’s helpful and leave what isn’t.

Tas x


Source: Australian Institute of Health And Welfare

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