Sally Gillespie

Sally Gillespie

One of the most important lessons of recent years is the value of community. When disasters strike, whether they be bushfires, floods or pandemics, often the most heartfelt and sustained support comes from the people who live around us, whether they be neighbours, parents at the local school, businesses, health providers or local councils. When we live in a strong and caring community, we both feel and are safer. We are also happier. So, one of the best ways to look after yourself and your family is to cultivate local community connections that support our families through good and hard times.

The foundation of local communities are the places where we live, and the people who live close by. Going through the experience of lockdowns in the last few years has heightened an awareness of the importance of neighbourhood connections. Suddenly we were spending more time in our local parks and shops, and chatting to our neighbours out on the street or organising rosters for checking in vulnerable or isolated people nearby. Many of us have kept up with local social connections past the time of the lockdowns, through regular street get togethers, dog walking and community gardens.

However, community connections do require time, care and value. Sadly, the pace and pressure of modern life, especially in larger cities, can be neither kind nor appreciative of the local communities. Even though research shows that good neighbourhood connections improve mental and physical wellbeing, this often sits low on a list of priorities in people’s lives. Shockingly, around one-third of Australian adults are not involved in any social or community groups, making them more vulnerable to mental illness.  It also weakens the social fabric and resilience of our communities, especially when collective hardships arrive like a pandemic or a drought.

If we want this to change, we need to consciously nurture our community connections, helping us and others to create happier, safer and more meaningful lives and a greater sense of belonging. From this basis, local initiatives can arise that provide vital support in hard times, such as during the recent floods. Local groups can also become the basis for empowerment and climate action as a number of communities found out in the last election when their efforts resulted in wins for community independents.

If we want to live in friendly, caring and empowered communities, it’s up to each of us to put a bit of energy and attention into creating this. Here are a few suggestions to get you started growing connections and kindness in your local community:

  1. Host a garage sale or a clothes or toy swap. Put out a few chairs to encourage neighbourly chats
  2. Set up a walk to school or a babysitting roster with nearby families.
  3. Participate in your suburb’s Facebook group sharing local information, news and resources.
  4. Volunteer in the local bush care group or garden your streets grass verge.
  5. Find or set up a local fruit and veggie co-op.
  6. Schedule a regular footie or cricket game with local families at your nearest park.
  7. Host a kitchen table conversation with the neighbours about your area, what you love, and what action you want to take together.