Growing community togetherness through Over the Fence Cuppas

29 Feb 2024, 10:00 AM

If you’ve met Monique Engelen, Principal Policy Advisor with the Sustainability & Resilience team, it will come as no surprise that she has been co-hosting Over the Fence Cuppas with her neighbour Chad since 2015.  

Community is fundamental to Monique, who moved to the garden village of Waikanae with a young family and had to build her networks from scratch. 

Her street usually holds a small morning or afternoon tea, and says the Council koha is a nice way to support the event. 

Monique and Chad take the opportunity to facilitate shared learning amongst their neighbourhood, and encourages others to take advantage of the workshops that are on offer. Last year they invited a speaker from WREMO to talk about household emergency planning.  

“We got to figure out how we could help each other if we were in that situation. We figured out who’s got a barbeque and could cook if there’s a blackout, and we got to see who is vulnerable and might need someone to check in on them,” Monique said. 

“A lot of people are living alone, and having community support can really make a difference, particularly if someone has just suffered a significant loss and are now negotiating life on their own.” 

Monique says it’s become a calendar event for her local neighbourhood.  

“It’s an annual reminder that we’re all here for each other.”  

The Cuppa events have grown into something quite special for Monique’s neighbourhood. It was the seed that was planted at the first gathering several years ago where no one really knew each other, and has since bloomed a sense of belonging.  

“For us, it’s not just about socialising, it’s also about placemaking,” she says.  

There’s evidence of this across their neighbourhood, from the roadside gardens, to the fairy tree that delights local tamariki, and of course there’s also Monique’s legendary Halloween displays, all of which are rooted in this sense of community. 

Monique has also found that what is given is also returned. For instance, the crop of plums shares her crop amongst her neighbours returns as home-made jam and her neighbours have collaborated on kombucha brews.  

Monique also sees this as an opportunity to for Council staff to be grounded in their community.  

“As a local government we are part of our community, and this gives us a chance to understand community aspirations and need. Community starts with our neighbours.” 

“It’s given me a real sense of why I love Kāpiti; having good relationships with neighbours and building our community together. There’s a real changing demographic as more young families make the move up the coast, and initiatives like this are how we can show them what Kāpiti is all about.  

Her advice to anyone wanting to start their own Over the Fence Cuppa event is, “don’t get disheartened if not everyone turns up; some people have a high sense of privacy.”

She also says that it helps if you’re happy to be the champion; lots of people will participate but not do any more until a bit more familiar with the concept and have developed that level of comfort.  

But her final advice is to remember that it’s only a once-a-year initiative, so make the most of it and just give it a go.  

Register your Over the Fence Cuppa event