27 May 2020

The surprising silver lining of social distancing

| Communities@Work
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Three children kneeling on street in front of "Play Street" written in chalk.

Communities@Work is partnering with several Molonglo Valley suburbs to develop community connection initiatives, such as the popular Play Street in Wright. Photo: Supplied.

COVID-19 has changed the way we are living our lives, and while it is often hard to see a silver lining, some people have found that physical distancing is actually helping to bring them together. In one study, a quarter of adults said they have spoken to neighbours they previously had no relationship with before the pandemic.

Friends and family are finding new ways to stay connected, with video conferencing becoming the new norm. Neighbours are also searching for and creating different ways to connect, build relationships and support each other.

“It is wonderful to see the Canberra community coming together to help each other,” says Communities@Work CEO Lee Maiden. “Communities@Work has always been here to support the Canberra community. Our wealth of experience and dedicated employees enables us to support the community through the COVID-19 crisis.”

Communities@Work provides support in a number of ways, including helping those in immediate need with community services such as assistance with food and other essentials and providing early education and care services.

The organisation’s Community Development team works with local residents to build inclusive, connected and resilient neighbourhoods. Usually this is done face-to-face, with community development professionals working closely with residents to identify their strengths and assets, and encouraging residents to utilise and share these in community initiatives.

This process empowers residents to be actively involved in the development of their neighbourhood and local community. However, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, new approaches to community development have been required. The practice of physical distancing means many in the community are living, schooling and working from home, and using the digital world to replace activities that would usually be done in person.

“We’ve adapted and innovated our normal community development practice during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Communities@Work community development manager Karen Jesson. “While we’re no longer able to interact in person, we are working online and that has created new opportunities for us to connect. Denman Prospect is a great example.”

Located in Canberra’s newest region of Molonglo Valley, west of the CBD, there are currently 1000 people living in Denman Prospect and when the suburb is completed, it will be home to more than 10,000 people. Communities@Work recently held a trivia night for the local community, hosted on Zoom by Denman Prospect community development officer Michael Malone. Question categories included science, entertainment, general knowledge, arts, geography, history, and, of course, local knowledge with some Denman Prospect themes.

Teams included families, friends and neighbours in the area. Not everyone knew each other and in between hard-fought rounds, residents made some new friends and chatted about their suburb.

Screengrab of questions for Zoom trivia night in Denman Prospect.

The Denman Prospect community recently held a trivia night on Zoom, hosted by Michael Malone. Photo: Supplied.

“Our Zoom trivia night was a great opportunity for people to meet and make new friends, which is important in these times of COVID-19 restrictions, especially for those who might be feeling isolated,” says Michael. “It was a great way for us to learn from residents in Denman Prospect. We can’t wait to put on more events.”

Nick McDonald-Crowley, director, project delivery, Denman Prospect, agrees: “The Denman Prospect digital trivia night was a great way for our residents to connect during this time of social distancing. It showed us how we can be innovative, not only during these difficult times but to also help people engage with their community in the future.”

Of course there could only be one winner – a family team led by Daniel Hua, which won a $50 voucher for local cafe Morning Dew.

“The trivia night was great fun, especially given the COVID-19 circumstances,” says Daniel. “It was good to use technology to connect the Denman community and it went smoothly. We enjoyed meeting others in the community, and I’ve already reached out to a few friends who also live in Denman to make them aware about future events.”

Trivia nights are one of several initiatives planned by Communities@Work to create social connections and bring this new community closer together, social distancing or not.

Communities@Work has been recognised for its excellence in quality early childhood and education care. It also provides a variety of other services for the Canberra community.

Communities@Work has a long history in the region, and as Canberra’s largest not-for-profit community organisation, it works with the local community to build resilient, sustainable and socially inclusive communities in the ACT and capital region.

To find out more information, visit Communities@Work.

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