There is something really special about living in a close knit community. When we first moved here from London, twenty years ago, I have to admit I found it rather intrusive. After living in a city, where we hardly knew anyone and neighbours rarely spoke I found it odd that people in the village knew who we were, where we lived and lots of things about us, even though we didn’t know them at all. I know people who have lived here all their lives have the occasional moan about village gossip, everyone wanting to know everyone else’s business etc. but I eventually grew to love it. Recent events however have made me really, really appreciate what it’s like to live somewhere that people care about you…genuinely care!
Good friends (who have been amazing) aside, it’s been good to walk down the street, go into the local pub or shops and have people ask how I am (and some even give me a hug) I like that and consequently despite initial reservations about wanting to get the hell out of a place that holds so many memories, I think I’ll stay…I think this kind of community is something worth hanging on to.
In saying this I don’t actually get on with my nearest neighbours (except for the lovely family across the road). I think I’ve had one conversation with the people one side of me since we moved here, the odd hello if I see them (which I rarely do), and that’s all (they’re just not very friendly or talkative). Then there’s the people the other side who have been such a nightmare that Bob and I stopped speaking to them about two or three years ago…building a house at the end of their (and our) garden, that has taken 3 years to build and still isn’t finished, may have contributed to this. Noise is a biggy when it comes to neighbour disputes and constant hammering, drilling etc early on a Saturday morning has kind of taken its toll!
Of course we are all guilty occasionally of not being good neighbours. When we had a party recently the community police arrived to tell us there had been several complaints and that we needed to turn the music down. It was 2am and even though our parties are a rare occurrence, this was a particularly special one and I’d never personally complained about the odd noisy party held by others over the years I conceded they had a point… so we obliged and turned the music right down instantly. Sometimes you just have to suck it up!
G and his housemates have unfortunately had problems with their neighbours right from the start. There were some initial objections from the man next door that people with learning disabilities would be living there… we found out later that this was only after the housing association refused to use him as contractor (given that he’d botched up most of the work in there in the first place which was costing them a fortune to put right!) We put his objections down to him feeling aggrieved at not getting some work out of the renovations and nothing more.
Since then there’s been ongoing and continuous complaints about the parking with staff cars being vandalised (we can’t prove this was him but it’s all a bit suspicious and coincidental). Staff have been very conscious of where they park since this time, being careful not to park anywhere near his drive and those of us visiting have done the same.
Not long after, the neighbours the other side then launched in and made their own complaints. The coming and going of cars was clearly a big problem to them. Efforts have been made in the last four years to befriend, or at least placate both neighbours to no avail…all very sad!
A recent escalation of events has left me seething with anger!
Last week the families of all the housemates at G’s house were sent an email from the CEO of the organisation that provides their support telling us that the neighbours both side of their house are being rather unpleasant at the moment, complaining about parking (still), but mostly about noise. This culminated in one of the neighbours calling 999 to report screaming and suspected abuse. The Police attended only to find the housemates having fun in the garden with a paddling pool and water pistols…squealing with delight, playing with water on a hot sunny day, making no more noise than a family with children and considerably less than a party or BBQ, with music and lots of people.
Consequently social services have had to investigate. They found no evidence of abuse but the whole episode has taken up lots of people’s time…time that could have been better and more productively spent and how sad that a lovely day in the garden had to become an “incident” requiring investigation.
Failing to get anywhere with the police and social services the neighbours then contacted Environmental Health and wrote to their local Councillor. They’ve been asked to fill in a diary and the noise level will be monitored. Environmental Health have since, quite rightly indicated they don’t think there is a problem.
Environmental health?…really? …loud music at parties, dogs barking maybe…but the odd squeal or shriek of laughter…please!
Now, ordinarily I would have been delighted that the neighbours had taken an interest in the welfare of my son and his housemates…after all that’s why we pushed for him to live in an ordinary community rather than a more sheltered way of living, that traditionally would have been the option. There does however seem to be a bit more to this… . It would seem that these people simply don’t like the idea of people with learning disabilities living next door and a there is now a seemingly vindictive, conspired campaign, which we can only conclude is based on prejudice and discrimination.
As sad and upsetting as all this is it is the County Councillor’s response to all this that has angered me the most. I’m well used to people’s ignorance about disability but this guy should really know better.
When speaking to the CEO, he asked “whether this was actually an appropriate place for people with learning disabilities to be living”…
He asked “if there was any way to keep them quiet!”
He asked whether “THEY COULD BE SEDATED!”…. Yes, I kid you not…he actually asked whether they could be given medication to keep them quiet….Unbelievable!!!!
Er…well NO!! Because actually we don’t do this kind of thing anymore Councillor (thankfully) and this would be ABUSE!
To say we were all completely gobsmacked by these comments would be a gross understatement. I’m livid, outraged and incensed.
I want to “out him” plaster his name and what he’s said all over Twitter and Facebook and sit back and watch social media swing into action. Remembering the reaction Cornish Councillor, Colin Brewer received after his hideous remarks stating disabled children should be “put down at birth” this would be interesting….but I’m not going to do that just yet (tempting though it is!). Instead we’re all writing to him to express our disgust, disappointment and anger at what he’s said and… to ask him to remember that our kids are his constituents too, all with the right to vote (whether they happen exercise that right or not!) I have to say though that I do find it extremely disturbing that an elected local Government representative holds such views and is so ignorant of current Government policy regarding living independently and disability/human rights in general and this too will be pointed out to him.
The neighbours have also indicated that having people “like this” living next door to them has lowered their house prices…if that kind of comment had been in regard to race, religion or sexual orientation it would have been jumped all over instantly. The police are well aware of this and have had a quiet word with the neighbours, explaining that their behaviour is inappropriate.
Whilst it’s true that everybody needs good neighbours it’s a sad fact of life that we don’t always get them and I wonder what you do about people like this. Had G’s neighbours bothered to get to know him and his fellow housemates they would have discovered that they are in fact the perfect neighbours. They don’t have loud, rowdy parties going on until the early hours, they don’t have a dog that barks constantly, nor do they play loud music at all hours of the day and night. The house and gardens are well maintained and they are all friendly, lovely young people (as are their staff team).
Needless to say this is unlikely to happen now as things have gone too far and got so bad. It makes me cross that these neighbours have taken it upon themselves to resort to such nasty tactics and I wonder what they are hoping to achieve by it. If its to force them out then that ain’t going to happen…. our kids have as much right to live in their community as equal citizens and they are not going any where.
G’s provider organisation have been great, doing everything they can to keep us informed and handle this situation and more importantly making sure nothing changes for the people they support. e.g. hose pipes and water games in the garden will continue without question. They are understandably angry and annoyed about this too and we are all concerned about the impact this is all having our the lovely staff team at the house who are having to put up with rude behaviour from the neighbours, visits from the police and social care investigations.
Whilst this whole situation is upsetting and annoying it also begs the question ….when does this kind of low level harassment become disability hate crime? And, at what point do we start to challenge these attitudes, actions and comments on this basis?
I’ll keep you posted.