At first, the Bendemeer neighbours got to know one another while walking their dogs and their chats centred mainly around Man’s best friend.
But since one of them, Ms Mabel Tan, 26, started organising gatherings over food last September, they now talk about more things and are even planning to go on a holiday together.
Ms Tan, a marketing executive, is one of more than 80 people who have started their own Let’s Makan, or Let’s Eat, sessions, with event organising tips and resources from the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM).
The organisation’s initiative was started last July, and aims to foster closer relationships among neighbours by helping them organise gatherings over food.
It provides online resources, including recipes and ideas for ice-breaker activities.
Ms Tan told The Sunday Times: “Perhaps it’s because we spend more time together when we meet over food… we’ve become closer and talk about a wider variety of topics.”
Typically, eight people in their 20s and 30s – six Bendemeer residents, a resident’s sibling, and another’s boyfriend – turn up at the sessions.
They have since planned other activities, such as exercising and birthday celebrations, and intend to go on a beach vacation nearby in the next few months.
They now meet three to four times a week, typically to exercise and have meals after that.
Ms Tan found out about the SKM initiative through social media and decided to organise gatherings to enjoy things such as steamboat.
“Singaporeans are generally quite shy and passive. I started organising the gatherings as I wanted to take our friendship to the next level,” she said.
SKM general secretary William Wan said: “We are very pleased that this little idea we have seeded among our friends and online followers is beginning to gain some traction and a life of its own.”
He said it was also encouraging to learn of other groups of neighbours who have had similar gatherings even before the Let’s Makan initiative was started.
Another group of neighbours – one Chinese and two Eurasian families – have been having such gatherings for more than 30 years. They used to live on the same floor before their estate went through an en bloc sale. They asked to be on the same floor in their new estate in Holland Drive when they moved in four years ago.
Two families now occupy three units on the same floor, with the third living in a nearby block.
They leave house keys and newspapers with one another when someone goes overseas, and some of them watch soccer matches together.
Once, one of them left her keys at work, but managed to enter her house as she had left her keys with neighbour Chan Lan Koon.
“Good neighbourliness is important as we can look after one another,” said Ms Chan, 58, a retiree.
“Family members may not be around to help at the time when you need it. So it’s still good to have helpful neighbours.”
First published in The Straits Times – February 22, 2015