August 10, 2020

The Resurgence of Community Connection

No matter where you live or what you fill your days with, we are all driven by the same inherent need – to find places where we belong. We seek connections with those around us – at work, society and in our neighbourhoods.

Finding those connections has become increasingly important during COVID-19, seeing us reaching out to our neighbours to ‘check-in’ on one another’s health and wellbeing. As a team of five million, we have developed a strong sense of connection and responsibility for those around us. A community on Hueglow Rise in West Auckland has taken this a step further, creating a regular kite flying afternoon for its residents.

The opportunity arose thanks to funding from the Henderson Massey Local Board for neighbourhoods to take part in a Neighbours Day celebration. Healthy Families Waitākere Lead Systems Innovator and Hueglow Rise community member, Catherine Powell, explains.

“The community of Hueglow Rise had already held a few events for whānau to come along to, which everyone enjoyed and saw us create a Facebook group for us all to connect. When we learned of the Neighbours Day funding, we brainstormed what a celebration could be for our community. Seeing as it was Matariki (Māori New Year), we decided on kite flying, as it signals the start of Matariki festivities.”

The kites were purchased with the Neighbours Day funding, ensuring everyone within the community could take part. The event was held for an hour on a Saturday afternoon, to work around children’s sports commitments and a shared afternoon tea.

“It was great to see everyone enjoying something simple and wholesome together,” said Misha Okan from Hueglow Rise.

The Hueglow Rise community extended a little further, as neighbouring residents from further afield joined in after seeing the kites flying from their houses. The event was such a success, the community decided to lock the event in as a regular calendar item.

The concept of neighbourly connection isn’t new, but in recent decades has taken a back seat. We are increasingly time-poor, coupled with a lack of resources and energy to be part of a neighbourhood community. Urban design has led to more structural changes in our local environments, including declining public/multi-use local spaces, car dominance on our roads, alongside a trend towards a perceived need for more privacy/security around our homes such as high fences and gates.

However, the recent global crisis has triggered a resurgence for rebuilding our neighbourhood connections. It’s reminded us how important it is to know those living around you, through the good times and bad. Social capital is now back on public policy agenda, rebuilding of local connections being more proactively encouraged, and the benefit of resilient communities is nationally showcased as a vital response in COVID-19 recovery efforts.

The work to rebuild our neighbourhood communities has begun. Still, we have only reached the thin side of the wedge when it comes to addressing the complex and multi-dimensional challenges which inhibit community connection.

Across regional and central Government, efforts to accelerate community resilience needs to be prioritised at all levels – from policy and practices through to resources and investment. Reorienting funding to resource community leaders to shift the decision makers back to community, high-level mandates from MP, PM, etc., to bring credibility and enable new ways of thinking. Building community capability so decisions are made by community – not for community…

Community resilience needs to be a strategic focus at all levels so as a nation, we can rebuild a shared sense of connection between people and place.