Jeroen Vegter, one of the initiators of the brunch, looks upon the whole event with satisfaction. These past few weeks, he and his neighbours did their best informing the students living in the area of Orleansplein about the Neighbours’ Day. They went from door to door and spoke to people on the street. This seems to have worked. He thinks that the mix of people is a good representation of the composition of the neighbourhood.
This means that half of them are students and the other half families, expats and elderly people. Although the atmosphere today is good, it certainly hasn’t always been like that the past year. “During the pandemic, many people were at home every evening,” says Vegter. “As the gardens are adjoined, it doesn’t take much to cause noise disturbance. This led to rather a bit of tension. Neighbours regularly went round to the students to complain. But then I realised: the order is all wrong here. We go around to complain, but we have never welcomed them.”
Keeping good contact with each other became the plan of action. This has already shown results. “Most of the disturbance came from two fraternity houses,” says Vegter. “They have parties there practically every week. That is why we had a talk with them.” The results were varying. One house paid little heed. Even after warnings from the police, the parties just continued. Eventually, the landlord intervened by evicting all the inhabitants.
“That was by no means our intention,” says Vegter. “But it does show that mutual understanding pays off. The other fraternity house did respond positively to the message. They understand our complaints and try to take us into consideration. We have much less disturbance now. What’s more, they are helping us setting up everything today. They feel it is important to participate in Neighbours’ Day and even went as far as to postpone another activity.”
At a table a little further along, German student Anne-Sophie Oppor is involved in an excited conversation. “I consciously chose to study abroad, because I wanted to get to know another culture. But if you spend all your time at the university, mixing with the international students, you won’t get very far.” That is why she likes meeting her neighbours, something that wasn’t always easy during COVID-19. “Before the pandemic, I used to speak with a really nice, elderly neighbour. It may sound strange, but I had no idea if he was still alive. Fortunately, I see him walking around here today.”
Oppor has noticed that relations with the neighbours have improved. “Of course, there will still be some disturbance at times. But when you know each other, you will go around to them more easily, instead of immediately calling the police. Or you pop around to apologise for having caused a disturbance.” Vegter, at any rate, would like to organise more of these accessible activities. “Maybe around Christmastime. It is no luxury, because the turnover is considerable here. Before you know it, new students have moved in.”
After a good two hours, the square starts to slowly empty. One student and an older neighbour continue their talk. The student ends the conversation with, “I may pop in to see you soon.”