With the pandemic leaving people less connected, it’s no surprise cases of social isolation and loneliness are sitting higher than usual. It’s during these times we need a sense of community more than ever to help explore new ways and reasons to connect with one another.
“Loneliness is a significant issue across Australia and the world at the moment,” Nick Tebbey from Relationships Australia says.
“Reports liken the effects of loneliness to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day in terms of the morbidity risk. It has significant impacts for us as individuals.”
Nick says concerted efforts have been made to start addressing the situation.
“We’ve seen a real unifying spirit over the last 18 months when there’s a natural disaster or a pandemic – when people get together and look out for each other, support each other, and support the most vulnerable in their communities,” he says.
One of the factors that can play a huge role in whether or not we feel connected is the communities in which we live.
In initial designs for the emerging Ginninderry region, infrastructure was incorporated to help encourage people to head outside.
“We deliberately tried to keep our streets pedestrian-friendly, to make sure kids can actually get outside and play safely with good routes to the park,” says Ginninderry’s community development manager Tulitha King.
“Then we’ve included community hubs such as parks, ponds or viewpoints – natural spaces that exist outside the home where people might be drawn together.
“Community amenities throughout the suburb create incidental occasions for interaction, providing a chance for people to build community on their own terms, which is slow and organic. That’s really important, people often feel more comfortable doing it in that way.”
Creating appealing neighbourhoods also helps give people a sense of place and a feeling of belonging.
“If you have a relationship with your neighbour, and the kids who live down the road, and the guy who walks by with his dog every day, it makes you feel at home,” Tulitha says.
“This contributes to your physical health as well. If you feel safe in a community, you’re more likely to get outside and be active outside.”
The Ginninderry team has also launched a number of community programs and events as an avenue for neighbours to connect. These include movie nights, a playgroup, communal gardens, sustainability workshops, yoga classes, even a choir.
But how can we all build more connections in our everyday lives?
Nick says it can start with simple things such as saying hello and stopping for a chat when you pass your neighbours in the street or over the fence. “Just generally having conversations like that can open up a whole lot of doors,” he says.
“We’re seeing neighbourhoods set up Whatsapp groups or Facebook groups where they share what’s going on in the neighbourhood, or organise events.”
Tulitha says we can all play a big role in growing not only our personal connections, but those in the greater communities around us.
“We’re seeing people take ownership of their community here at Ginninderry,” she says.
“At Christmas there were several street parties and there’s a regular soccer group every Sunday night. So it’s important to be proactive in developing a sense of community rather than waiting for it to happen.”