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Spain’s best neighbours honoured with Good Neighbour award

Updated: Apr 3

male ane female hands linking around a tree trunkund a tree

Image by Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash

From Córdoba to the Canaries – here are the best neighbours in Spain! 

We’re delighted to announce the results of our Good Neighbour Award scheme which attracted nominations from all over the country, from Córdoba to the Canaries! 

The Good Neighbour Award set out to highlight the best examples of neighbourliness in Spain. In some cases, nominees for the award were people who had done something really significant for their local community; in other cases, grateful neighbours simply wanted to say thank you to someone who had done them a kindness or gone out of their way to help. 

Nominations for the 2023 awards were so strong that the international panel of judges has not only declared a winner – but has chosen several others to receive certificates of commendation. 

Our overall winner, Alison Brophy who lives in Carralejo, Fuerteventura. 

Alison and Elaine selfie portrait as winners in the Good Neighbour award

Alison was nominated for creating ‘Stronger Together’ an organisation which exists for the benefit of non-Spanish residents, simply “to help people, to improve things, to help the nationalities integrate and generally to improve the life of everyone in Fuerteventura”.  

Alison has lived in Spain for 27 years. She first arrived to buy a karaoke bar – which she still runs – but became interested in helping people during the COVID lockdown when ‘time presented itself and I wanted to do something to help’.

Since then, thousands of people have come for advice or support, evidenced by the large number of nominations received for Alison.

‘There are so many people needing help here and no one to help them. And what professional help there is can be very costly. Right now, we have a membership of 650, among whom 26 nationalities are represented.’

Stronger Together aims to integrate people into Spanish society, for example by providing language lessons – more than 300 people have gone through their classes - facilitating social activity, and encouraging people to register to vote in local elections; it navigates bureaucracy and helps people with their TIEs, their driving licences, or their business start-ups. The association arranges care packages when needed, accompanies people for hospital visits, and it also liaises with consulates, government bodies and other charitable organisations. It produces Breeze, the only English language magazine on the island and for which Alison has secured local business sponsorship.

Not content with all of that, Alison has another idea – what she calls her big dream. She’d like to build an assisted living complex for the island and is in search of a business backer for that. ‘I know there’s a market for this and it’s a real business opportunity for someone. Right now, we have to send people home to the UK if they are looking for assisted living facilities because there is no full-time care on the island.’ 

If there are any millionaires reading this……

Elaine Berry is a good friend of Alison Brophy – Elaine helped Alison set up Stronger Together and is President of the association. In fact, it’s quite possible the friends will share the celebratory dinner which is awarded to the winner! 

Elaine came to Spain in 1993 – initially to Lanzarote where she worked as a dancer in cabaret in the island’s luxury hotels. After 18 months she opted to stay in Spain and moved to Fuerteventura, to a predominantly Spanish village where she learned the language, taking to it ‘like a duck to water’.  Equipped with the language skills, Elaine changed direction and began to work with the Spanish courts as a legal translator. She also helped the British Consulate and several holiday tour operators when visitors met with difficult circumstances whilst on holiday. In 2017, she won Jet 2’s award for Best Customer Service.

Her language and problem-solving skills have been put to good use with Stronger Together where she says she has developed a specialism – helping people cope with bereavement, guiding people through all that is involved in registering a death, organising funerals, making cemetery arrangements, dealing with the banks and with the deceased’s will. 

Her helping people on the island began quite naturally. Because she could speak Spanish, those who didn’t have the language would approach her for help when they had to confront bureaucratic issues. But the instincts were already there, Elaine says. Her mother recalled that as a seven-year-old she brought home a local tramp, asking her mother to give him ‘one of daddy’s jackets because it’s cold and something to eat because he’s hungry.’ Her mother foresaw a future in which she would be caring for people.

Says Elaine, ‘It’s a great honour to receive this acknowledgement and I hope it spreads the word and we might find people doing similar things in other parts of Spain.’

Commenting on the announcement of the Good Neighbour Award winners, UK Ambassador to Spain, Hugh Elliott, said:

Aman standing in front of the British flag
UK Ambassador Hugh Elliott

“Stronger Together is a respected organisation in Fuerteventura and has worked with Las Palmas Consulate to provide support to the most vulnerable of British people. My very warmest congratulations go to Alison Brophy and all those commended by Age in Spain for their good neighbourliness. It can be tough integrating into a new country and navigating different systems, but all those recognised by this award make a real difference in their local communities, helping to make day-to-day life just that bit easier for others. I applaud all these wonderful local ambassadors for the UK in Spain.” 

Perhaps it’s inevitable that since much – though by no means all – of the work we do in Age in Spain is concerned with older people, our award scheme often attracts nominations for people who have been empathetic, helpful and consoling when it comes to bereavement. 

A commendation in the Good Neighbour Award was received by Alan and Sarah Groves after a nomination from a neighbour whom they’d helped cope with the death of her husband. 

a man and a woman smiling with a city in the background
Alan and Sarah Groves

It was with a heavy heart that Sarah and her husband arrived in 2018 from Gloucestershire. Sarah’s father had had a cancer diagnosis with a poor prognosis. Knowing he had little time, he rearranged his home to accommodate Sarah and Alan, so that Sarah would be there to look after her mother when the time came. They were able to spend quality time together before her father died, though sadly her mother also passed away shortly afterwards. But the couple made Spain their home and are settled here now. 

Sarah’s motivation to help others stemmed from her own experience. ‘My  experience in losing both parents in Spain taught me what is involved, and I have used that experience to help others. The speed with which burials and cremations must be arranged in Spain can make it difficult for people who are not familiar with the system and have no family support on hand. Spanish people depend on their families in times of crisis like this. Others don’t have that support.'

‘We simply have to look out for one another. There are fewer ex-pat groups on the island than on the coasts of mainland Spain, so we need to look out for one another.’

In nominating Alan and Sarah, their neighbour said: ‘Without them I would not have known what to do or where to go to organise the funeral.  They have taken me out, asked me how I am doing all the time, supported me through all the ups and downs of sorting out the inheritance deed, which was a nightmare, and they don't mind when I have cried.  I don't know what I would have done without them.

Giulia de Santo Wood lives in Iznájar, Córdoba, a community she describes as fifty per cent Spanish people and fifty per cent incomers of different nationalities, particularly British and Dutch.  She says it’s a nice place where people work in the olive groves from November – March, and become house painters in the summer months. 

A woman smiling
Giulia de Santo Wood

Giulia’s family are Italian and she lived in Italy for 20 years, but she arrived in Spain eight years ago and ‘not being someone to sit back and do nothing’ immediately got involved in helping others. She accompanies people as their interpreter to hospital visits, helps people through bereavement, goes to house viewings where technical detail may be difficult to understand without the language, and has been known to help when a car has broken down. 

Giulia was nominated for doing all the things that a good neighbour might be expected to do and received commendation in our Good Neighbour Award scheme.

Praising the support that Spanish families give to one another, particularly to their elderly relatives, she explains that, by contrast, many immigrants to Spain don’t have that support. The Spanish health service provides excellent support, she points out, but many people don’t know how to access that support. She looks out for people who find themselves in that position, acknowledging that one day she might need help herself. 

Her nominators testify to her utter selflessness, but she downplays that.

‘I don’t have children, so the day might come when I, too, am in need of that kind of help.’ 

She’s hoping there might be a Giulia around to help her if that time comes. 

Read about the surprise party that friends and family put on for Guilia here, with a presentation of her certificate from the local mayor. A wonderful celebration.

Steve Laidlow was nominated and won commendation for his Dream Centre.

A man holding a microphone making a speech
Steve Laidlow

Arriving in 2019 for retirement in Hondón de los Frailes, Alicante, Steve with his wife Ann quickly forgot about retiring and, with their own savings, initially converted a warehouse and collected clothing and food to distribute to the poor.

After this came the Dream Centre, a purpose-built facility which houses a café and a thrift shop, as well as providing a venue for social gatherings and activities such as line dancing, poetry readings, a men’s group ‘Men with Purpose’ and a woman’s group, ‘Women of Destiny’. 

A building with a palm tree in the background
The Dream Centre

The Dream Centre is also a venue for church services for Steve and Ann are missionaries with many years’ experience  of working internationally. They are members of the Acorn International Church. They see their work with the community in Hondón de los Frailes as part of the mission of the Church, and helping people as their ministry. Both are experienced councillors and pastoral workers. Says Steve, encouraging people to come and join in their activities : ‘The church that’s alive is worth the drive to help people discover an extraordinary life.’

Kimberly Olsson, from Torrevieja, has a reputation locally for caring for the feral cats in the neighbourhood.

A woman with a tree in the background
Kimberley Ollson

But recently, while feeding the colony of cats that come to her, she found a man whom she initially thought was dead.

When she discovered he was still alive, she took responsibility for finding him shelter, washing and ironing his clothes, and dealing with the bureaucracy around getting him into the social care system. She registered him with Helping Hands in San Luis to provide food for him and has followed this up by ensuring that he is in contact with a social worker. Says the neighbour who nominated this Good Samaritan ‘ He is a gentle Spanish man who had fallen on hard times. Without Kimberly I don’t know what would have happened to him.’ 

A head and shoulders shot of a woman smiling
Esther de Veer, nominated by her 90 year old neighbour

Esther de Veer from Lloret de Mar in Catalonia was nominated by her 90-year-old neighbour whom Esther has been helping in all sorts of ways since the neighbour had a bad accident.

Apart from shopping and cooking for her neighbour, Esther has been walking her dogs and dealing with all the requirements of daily life. Says her neighbour ‘ As I live alone and recently celebrated my 90th birthday, it gives me great peace of mind to know Esther is at the end of the phone. I believe she helps others, but she doesn’t talk about it.’

The Good Neighbour commendation is her neighbour’s way of saying thank you.

And finally, John Rafferty, President of Age in Spain and a pilgrim himself who lives in Santiago de Compostela, announces the winner of the Camino Angel award for 2023.

This special award came about because so many pilgrims started nominating people who have helped them along their way. This year's winner is Juan José Sierra from Valencia, who runs the website which supports pilgrims on the camino routes in Valencia. Congratulations Juan - watch the video to find out why he was nominated and the special commendations that were also made to Tania Valdez from the La Cala Pilgrims Inn in Oia, Pontevedre, Gonzalo Zalo from Santiago's popular Bar Conga 7 and Susan and Rocio from the Albergue Biznaga in León for their valued help and support to pilgrims.


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