This is an action research project as part of the Williamson Community Leadership Program 2018

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RESEARCH

The team have been researching social isolation, having discussions with experts and testing the #5up5down idea

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Boroondara Council



1.   What current initiatives are underway to improve social connectedness in local communities?

· Men's sheds - Council has supported the development of four men's sheds in the City, most recently constructing a shed at the North Balwyn Bowl's Club. More information on sheds locally can be found at https://www.boroondara.vic.gov.au/recreation-arts/neighbourhood-houses-and-community-centres/mens-sheds

· Council also supports 11 neighbourhood houses that run a variety of programs and activities, all of which focus on providing opportunities for people to connect with others. Some have programs targeted at communities most at risk of social isolation, such as those with mental health diagnosis, a disability or who are from culturally diverse backgrounds. More information is https://www.boroondara.vic.gov.au/recreation-arts/neighbourhood-houses-and-community-centres

· Community gardens: there are a number throughout the city and these provide an opportunity for those wanting to garden who don't have the space e.g. are living in apartments. They can garden alongside others with shared interest. Some of our community gardens are located at our neighbourhood houses, and the produce can be used as part of a cooking course.

· Share and connect projects: one of our neighbourhood houses piloted a project to connect people with backyards with a limited ability to maintain it, with those wanting to garden who do not have access to space. This initiative is about relationship building. The 'cultivating connections program' will be further developed.

· The Casserole Club is a meal sharing and community strengthening program that connects people who like to cook and who are happy to share an extra portion of their home cooked meal with older residents in their community. The program aims to tackle social isolation, provide intergenerational connections within communities, improve food options for older people and provide a flexible approach for people to volunteer their time and skills in the local community. People who like to cook choose when it is convenient for them to prepare and share their extra portion of food. As a social participation program, Cooks and Diners in the same neighbourhood are connected through food. As a food program, people are encouraged to cook and Diners can receive a quality home cooked meal.

· New parents groups - Parents of new born babies are linked in to a parents group at their Maternal and Child Health Centre. Many of these connections not only provide peer support in a time of vulnerability, they often remain lifelong friends.

· Sporting facilities/clubs - people may join a club, initially attracted by the activity however the element that keeps them involved are the social connections they make.

· Kindergartens play an important role in a child’s education and also encourage social interactions from families who typically live in close proximity to the kindergarten and develop friendships.

· Volunteer Skills Bank (see below)

· Timebanking. We are investigating how we might introduce the concept of timebanking where people can share skills e.g. I might teach someone to knit and with my credit, someone else will teach me how to use an ipad.

· Street parties: Council provides a kit to support people interested in running street parties. These are very popular and can result in new friendships and knowing your neighbours. 

Our community grants program supports local community organisations who want to run programs and initiatives of benefit to local residents. More information is https://www.boroondara.vic.gov.au/community-support/community-grants Festivals and events. Seehttps://www.boroondara.vic.gov.au/recreation-arts/events/major-events-and-festivals

2.   From your experience / knowledge of the research, what are the most effective ways to bring people together?

The research and community consultation that supported the development of the Boroondara Community Plan last year highlighted the importance of people making local connections - knowing others in the local community.  Understand the community you want to work with and what their priorities are, as this can vary across age groups, culture etc… People don’t always set out to make social connections, it is often a secondary element to an activity/common interest group/community setting that brings them together in the first place. Therefore providing a non-threatening environment to initially bring people together (in whatever way that is) is important and often the social connectedness follows organically.

As well as the above, volunteering is an important way for people to connect with others in a meaningful way. Boroondara has the highest rate of volunteering in metro Melbourne with 26% of the population indicating they volunteered in the 2016 census. We have recently launched the Volunteer Skills Bank to provide an opportunity for skilled volunteers to share their skills on short-term projects e.g. web development, strategic planning sessions, developing HR policies for small community groups, serving on the community Boards. This has been extremely popular and attracts those who want to use their skills on short-term projects rather than a long-term commitment. The impact is evident in the stories of those who have responded to the initiative. See https://www.boroondara.vic.gov.au/community-support/volunteering/boroondara-volunteer-skills-bank for more information.

3.       What are the biggest challenges in improving social connectedness?

Reaching the 'hard to reach' - these are the most vulnerable in our community - and in general engaging community. The key is understanding the cohorts’ experience and building a relationship of trust. This is often difficult for organisations to sustain due to lack of resourcing and other needs being prioritised over time. Communities that are already engaged will continue to this. Unfortunately  the socially isolated communities for a number of reasons (language barriers, lack of support structures such as family, socio economic status, mental health etc…) will find it harder to engage services without an advocate to support them.  

4.       What are the greatest opportunities to improve social connectedness? Is there something already in place that we could build on?

All of the above. We are interested in further developing the connections between neighbourhood houses and their local communities, particularly initiatives such as street parties. Council runs many of its events such as Harmony Day, International Women's Day, NAIDOC and Reconciliation Weeks with neighbourhood houses. 

5.       How do we create or tap into a shared sense of purpose or meaning?

Doing activities around a shared interest and connecting with local community organisations. Tap in to existing programs and seek out appropriate partnerships in the space you want to work in. There are many community run organisations that could benefit from support to continue their work with disadvantaged or disengaged community groups. Consider your organisations priority groups and focus in on that cohort by engaging with community leaders or organisations that work with that cohort. Try to partner with smaller community organisations rather than larger Not for Profits, as their connection on the ground is stronger.

6.       How do you think we could get the ‘spirit of community’ that is demonstrated during crises and in rural towns, into everyday life in metropolitan regions?

7.       How do we support people to create long-term relationships (rather than one-off encounters)?

All of the above. Avoid engaging with community around short term funded projects. Build ongoing community engagement methodologies and initiatives in to your organisation structure and fund these programs.

8.       Which population groups would most benefit from efforts to improve social connectedness?

Everyone but in particular vulnerable groups such as older people, people from culturally diverse backgrounds including international students, people with a disability, those on low incomes and the socially isolated.

9.       One idea we’ve had is to encourage people to host a get together in their home, where they invite their neighbours – ‘5 up and 5 down’ from where they live. What do you think about this idea?

Excellent. You could do this as part of Neighbour Day, which is in March (or you could do it early!)

10.   If we were to lead a community-based initiative to improve social connectedness, where do you think we could best focus our efforts?

Consider your group's interests and find a relevant community organisation you could partner with and have a conversation with them about this.

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