In our advent calendar blogs over the last few weeks, we have been looking at easy ways that you can make a difference in your local community.

With just a week to go to Christmas, you might be wondering how you will even have time to get all your Christmas preparation done, let alone find the extra time to spend getting to know new people.

The truth is, however, that it’s often the small things – ones that don’t really take much time or money – that can often make all the difference.

Behind door 18 of our Community Advent Calendar is the suggestion to take some baked goods to a friend or neighbour.

Make a small gesture today

Everyone enjoys a homemade cake. But if baking isn't your thing and/or you don’t have the time, then why not simply pop round and see a neighbour you haven’t seen for a while? Or drop a Christmas card through the door of the new family that has moved in across the road or the neighbour who has lived there for years, but who you've never had the chance to get to know?

It is small gestures like these that can make all the difference. They can start conversations and sow the seeds for relationships to be built, and for a better sense of community to develop as neighbours gain a better understanding and appreciation of one other.

You can make a big difference - like Shaun has

One great example of how small actions can lead to big results comes from Shaun, a man with learning disabilities supported by United Response who has got to know two of his neighbours by simply offering to walk their dogs.

Shaun loves animals, but cannot keep his own where he lives, so his United Response support worker suggested that he ask his neighbours if he could walk their dogs. The neighbours were happy to oblige and Shaun now regularly walks their dogs - and the dog owners often invite him in for a cup of tea afterwards.

Through this simple act, Shaun has not only got to know his neighbours and help them out, but has also been able to take part in an activity that he enjoys. His health has improved, too, through going for regular walks with the dogs. Shaun enjoys the dog-walking so much that United Response staff are now working with Shaun to see if he could turn this simple idea into an employment opportunity, through the help of a small grant from United Response.

Sarah Bartlett, head of press and appeals.