Building strong connections is the key to overcoming isolation in communities
Strong community connections and the good relationships that sustain them have been proven to make us healthier, happier people. There is no doubt that, whatever our worldview, personality or preferences, we are all ultimately better together.
As a Christian ethos based organisation, one of Livability’s core beliefs is that people are created to live in company and companionship. We only need to observe the world around us to see that people, from all faiths and none, naturally and spontaneously form themselves into groups: neighbours, friends, colleagues, societies, and congregations.
How ironic, then, that a reality of contemporary Britain is the onset of social isolation and loneliness which affects all social groups, regardless of ages, ethnicities or incomes. So pervasive and worrying is this trend, that Western governments and other organisations are investing in communities to try and create solutions – to grow relationships and strengthen communities. Charities and local organisations have started up a number of initiatives to help improve the lives of isolated or lonely people.
One example is a community project called Men’s Sheds. Set up as a network for older men – particularly agricultural workers – these were people who not only experienced loneliness following retirement, but also missed the manual labour that had been an intrinsic part of their work. The key underlying principle was to build a network of good relationships. Now a nationwide organisation, it’s a place for learning, skill-sharing and achievement as well as friendship. For some it has been both a life-changer and a life-giver.
I was reminded of the Men’s Shed’s project when I was based at one of Livability’s residential services, York House, in Wakefield. At York House, they welcomed me, quite literally, into their home and I became part of their community: inviting me to coffee, to their Christmas party, to spend time with them. I loved hearing about their interests: one resident’s passion for snooker which meant regular trips to Sheffield, another who found a new lease of life working at a local charity shop. Others enjoyed shopping trips and theatre visits. There was a real participation in and enjoyment of the wider community in spite of the huge physical challenges they faced. These are remarkable individuals, and together they created a very special community.
Men’s Sheds and York House are real examples of how community should be. Supported to participate in their community, people pursue their interests with others, increasing their independence and reducing isolation. Their abilities are recognised and they are given space to make their own decisions and determine their own activities within the context of good relationship. These are the means by which people can grow into their own potential and thrive within and beyond the communities to which they belong. For me, this represents a blueprint for the kind of livable community that Livability exists to promote.
Ruth Young works for Livability as a Community Engagement Advisor.