Gary Newton, 58, from Stevenage, has been crowned East of England’s, Neighbour of the Year 2020, as part of Co-op Insurance and Neighbourhood Watch’s search for the UK’s best neighbours.
Gary’s community involvement stems from his DJing. He was given a PA system and lights on his 50th birthday, where the hobby began. Before the pandemic, he’d done a handful of events and birthday parties – but this really took off during the lockdown and the ‘Clap for Carers.’
Gary’s neighbour, Elaine Bronkhurst nominated him for the award. She said: “We have always been the kind of neighbours who say hello in passing, but now we actually care about each other and have developed deeper friendships and connections. Gary is always available for a chat and he has become the glue that holds our community together. Gary helped us develop a new family, our neighbours, which has gone from strength to strength.”
Gary’s mum sadly passed away from COVID-19, and it was so important for him to carry on with the DJing for her.
Gary Newton, East of England’s, Neighbour of the Year, said: “I didn’t want to let mum or anyone else down. DJing for Harvey Road, the street where I live, gave people something to look forward to and I wanted to carry on thanking the doctors who looked after mum. The community is so important to me, especially when mum died. The neighbours keep on saying thank you to me, but I’m just doing it because I want to. I love making people laugh, it’s a great therapy. I’m blessed and lucky with the neighbours I’ve got.”
The Neighbour of the Year award celebrates neighbours who look out for others, are sociable and friendly, offer practical help and are kind, caring and respectful. In its third year, the number of entries increased by a staggering 100 percent from 2019.
Ellis German, Home Insurance Executive at Co-op Insurance said: “We’re so proud of Gary – he’s an excellent reminder that there are those on our doorsteps who need us more than ever. All the judges agreed that he was the worthy winner of the East of England’s Neighbour of the Year 2020 award.”
This year the awards are being back by actress Catherine Tyldesley, who played Eva Price in Coronation Street, who said: “It’s heartening to see that neighbours like Gary exist and are being recognised for the great work they’re doing to create communities where everyone feels safe and part of something.”
This year’s winners are announced as new data from Co-op Insurance and Neighbourhood Watch warns that the surge in neighbourliness seen in the Spring hasn’t been sustained, as pandemic fatigue sets in across the UK.
During the peak of the first national lockdown in April, data from Co-op showed a spike in neighbourliness, over three quarters (79%) of adults in the East of England said they knew which of their neighbours was classed as high risk.
After seven months of pandemic restrictions, this figure has seen a dramatic fall, with only a quarter (23%) of adults in the East of England revealing they know which of their neighbours are at risk.
“With the Co-op, we really urge everyone to be as supportive of each other as possible and be truly vigilant. It will be a very challenging Christmas for so many of us.”
Ellis added: “Our latest research is cause for concern as we start to see neighbourliness plateau. The length of time of the pandemic, the personal impact on everyday lives and the shorter days and colder weather are all key reasons for why we’re seeing this.
“We’re urging people to band together and keep up neighbourly spirits this winter, especially with neighbours who are vulnerable or alone, whether that’s by having a friendly chat over the garden fence, checking in to see if they need food or medicine dropping off or by keeping in touch online.”