Hosting 6 families in our apartment to create a neighborhood

Hi friends,

My husband Stephen and I are beginning to build a neighborhood for families in Porto, Portugal. We moved here a bit more than three months ago, so we don’t have a big network yet.

We decided to host a first family-community gathering in our flat yesterday to start building community and find aligned people that turn into friends and become part of our neighborhood.

TL;DR:

Hurray! We hosted our first event and had 11 adults and 7 kids plus us (2 adults, 1 kid, 1 dog) in our flat for 2 hours to talk about community. It was a LOOOOOT and left us quite exhausted but also super pumped to keep going and keep trying different things. We definitely learned many many many things. (see here)

The invitation

We created an image and copied parts of @savkruger ’s story from the cohort post (cause it was just better than anything we could’ve put together in a short time) and sent out the invite one week ago on two WhatsApp threads for Moms and Dads in Porto and got plenty of responses of people being interested in this.

13 adults plus their 9 little ones originally RSVPd.

In the end we had an attendance of 11 adults and 7 kids (age 6 months to 4 years, most of them roughly around the two year mark) and we only knew two of them in person before the event (Though it turned out that I actually already met two others at a playgroup I used to go to)
But it was basically a group of strangers that we invited into our home. :sweat_smile:

The event was set from 3:30pm-5pm to allow for lunch naps and enough time to get home for dinner.

The setup

Snacks: We bought mostly fruit and some chips and rice crackers with chocolate and made water with mint and orange juice and lemon juice.




Space: We used our living room / kitchen space as the main gathering space. We had our couch and chairs and cushions on the floor for people to sit on.

Our balcony was the water play area with a little inflatable baby pool plus many cups and bowls for the kids to pour and splash.

Our bedroom was the quietest area, we left it open as a refuge for overstimulated kids and only had a few toys out there.

And we moved our moving boxes from the entryway (yes, we still have some) to the office and used our little entry hall as a play area with a kids table and a couple chairs plus pots and pans and plenty of household items that our daughter enjoys playing with right now. The idea was to have this be a sensory play area with chickpeas and noodles and black beans that the kids could pour and sort and play with. But we ended up not even using the grains…

The physical prep (cleaning up the house, getting snacks, arranging furniture and setting up play areas and snacks) took us probably 5 hours in total, spread out over the week and divided between two people (and a little helper).

I still need to figure out how much we spent on snacks and play items. Will post the number in the comments

We told everyone they don’t have to bring anything but the willingness to jump in and help wherever they see help is needed (setting up chairs, preparing snacks, reading to kids, playing with them, cleaning up afterwards,…)

The event

As to be expected when inviting families NO ONE came on time. :slight_smile: people trickled in between 3:40 and 4:00 and one mama came a bit later as she had to wait downstairs in the car till baby was awake again… No surprise there.

We asked everyone to keep an eye on their kid so except for one mom who came without her partner and a couple with two kids, we always had the full attention of one parent.

We used the first half hour to mingle and engage in one-on-one conversations and the kids were very quiet during that time as they got used to the new space and all the new faces.

Then we gathered everyone in the living room and started with some light prompts to introduce everyone:

  • What’s your name?
  • How long have you been in Porto?
  • Where are you from originally?

After this we shared our vision. And even though I prepared for this the entire week, journaled about it and tried to write down the most important points, I blanked and just said whatever came to my mind in that moment… there was a lot of energy in the room and it was loud and my mama brain turned on as I saw my daughter near the pool outside… But I managed to get something out that resonated with many people.

I talked about how lonely cities can feel and how much I am craving to have open doors with my neighbors and normalize hanging out at each other’s house and being part of each others lives and the lives of our kids.

I also said that we wanted to plant a seed today and see if anyone wants to take care of that seed and garden with us. Which is something that got clear in my conversations with @savkruger over the past weeks. I don’t want to give people any pressure to create with me. The people who showed up are curious but don’t know yet what we are wanting to start. So it’s not their seed. It’s ours and we are putting it in soil. We don’t know if it sprouts or what it grows into. But we have the hope that someone who hears about the seed gets excited and wants to nurture it too. I want to have community really bad but it can’t be forced and I do need reminders of this a lot. (Patience is still something I am working on). So thank you Savannah!!

I did my best to stay vulnerable and open and share how tender this desire is. Even if the words weren’t perfect, I think the feeling of what I want came through.

One mama asked me if I had experienced something like what I’m describing before and I could weave in Cabin very organically and point out that it’s a wonderful community… but unfortunately not in IRL for me.

After both Stephen and I shared about our vision we went into conversation mode and people asked questions. It was mainly two dads who chimed in and were curious about how to actually make this community happen and how to move forward after the event and not have it be “a thing that we went to a while ago…”.

We don’t have an answer for that yet but we have many ideas.

Many shared that they grew up in a setting that was way closer knit than the one they have now and that they want to have that feeling again, especially for their kids.

I shared that our neighbors growing up did tear down fences between our gardens so that the kids could run around freely and we did. 10 kids all around the same age lived in the houses surrounding our home and we all played pretty much every day. But: The parents weren’t super close friends. They occasionally hung out, we even went on vacation together with our next door neighbors in a big group. But the feeling of sharing lives and sharing tasks was missing. The adults never were at our house for profanities like cooking together or helping around the house, grocery runs weren’t done together. If they came over, it was a host/guest set up. I want something slightly different.

Back to the event:

Probably around 5 the kids started to get really really loud and overstimulated and it was hard to have any conversations as a group anymore so we moved into smaller group convos but the energy was extremely high and the kids needed more attention. So even though us adults could’ve kept talking and everyone wanted to continue the conversation, one after the other started to pack up and head towards the door to get the kid home for dinner.

One dad asked if he could help clean up the kitchen which also gave me time to say good bye to the last guests and engage in some conversation with the mom. It wasn’t a lot to clean up so we weren’t left with a big mess.

Three couples invited us to come to their place.

The event felt exciting and definitely left everyone with their gears turning. Stephen and I sat down afterwards and digested together. We don’t have a clear sense of “THESE ARE OUR PEOPLE!!! LET’S GO!!!” But we agree that we want to deepen the relationships with most of the people who came.

Now the big question for us is: How?

So… here is what we learned:

LEARNINGS

  • 13 adults and 8 kids plus 1 dog is A LOT in one apartment and definitely not sustainable for us to do every week.
  • Having it indoors makes it easier for people to have more than half-sentence-conversations as the kids can play unsupervised more safely than on the playground.
  • The areas we set up worked fairly well. The bedroom is a bit far from the rest of the flat, so whoever is there, won’t hear anything that gets said, but if we have dedicated parents who watch the kids playing there, it’s a great quiet area to decompress.
  • As we didn’t know most of the people, the roles remained pretty much us=host and everyone else= guest and it will take a while for people to really feel comfortable jumping in and helping (probably extra difficult in a big group like that)
  • We forgot to put out most of our snacks from the fridge so probably buying half of it would have been plenty
  • We didn’t need the sensory play items we got, the kids were happy with the pool and all the other toys.
  • Most people did bring something…and probably would’ve felt uncomfortable without that (at least for now) so we might as well leverage that and not care about snacks at all next time.
  • We only mentioned the “help us clean up” beforehand on the threads and didn’t repeat it at the event itself
  • We need to have some dedicated clean up time planned in (potentially already on the invite) or else it will fall on us.

Next time we would:

  • Engage with the people who RSVP before the event and already find out why they wanna come, what excites them, etc. It’s way easier to have conversations through text or voice messages async than it is to have conversations with kids present (at the playground it’s mostly half sentences that you share while running after your kid)
  • Make a thread of everyone who wants to come and ask for volunteers before the event starts:
    • Set up and hold an activity for the kids
    • Prepare the snacks
    • Stay after and reset the room
  • Try out different prompts to get to know them better
  • Prepare the vision more and have it be really clear so that people know even better what we want to create after we share. Maybe send that out before the event too.

What we want to try out next:

  • Host smaller events and invite max 2 couples at a time so we can have more focused conversations and go deeper
  • Set up playdates in the park with the people that live really close to us to spend more unstructured time with each other
  • Try out a format where two couples agree to spend an afternoon or morning together and one parent of each couple gets quality social time without kids. The other parent of each couple stays with the kid and plays.
  • Find out how other parents host events and build community
  • Reach out to everyone who came and ask for feedback and ideas
  • Set up dates with all of them and invite them over for dinner.
  • Host another big event with the people who showed interest in this one but couldn’t make it.
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Love how you thought through the creation of multiple spaces inside one apartment. Curious to learn later how many of those parents will continue showing interest and take the next steps.

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Wanted to circle back to this post after some reflection. First of all, thank you so much for writing it—so many great learnings! A few things that stuck out to me:

Great learning to assume late arrivals with families. It can be so stressful when you’re worried at the beginning if anyone is going to show up. Helpful to remember to just wait and they’ll come

Sounds like you nailed your vision : )

Beautiful way to frame this type of work — I think gardening is one of the best metaphors for community building!

it’s almost impossible to get this from a first time meeting people — we’ve felt the same way starting to get to know people in our neighborhood. Relationships take time. I’ve appreciated @savkruger’s analogy to dating.


Overall — curious how the conversations have continued to go with these other parents, now that it’s been more than a week since the event. Have you kept in touch with them? Any next gatherings planned or other progress?

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(Whoops, forgot to hit send on this message)

Wooowoooo! I’m celebrating you three from afar!

I’m also remembering this message you sent me before the gathering “I want to get out of hosting mode and into community building mode… :smiling_face:” and that feels really so true. I’m working on a module in the neighborhood accelerator that focuses on building community with others instead of for others.

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