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Getting connected where you live

A wellways staff member discusses how COVID-19 has changed their sense of neighbourhood.

I’m a Wellways staff member, working across Advocacy and Peer and Community Education. To my role I bring a lived experience of complex trauma. What once badly affected my mental health now plays out in physical health conditions, with challenges including adrenal fatigue and limited mobility. In response to COVID-19 I’ve decided to work from home. If I caught the virus it would compromise my health and capacity to work, which I cannot risk. Yet working from home comes with fears of social isolation, with less opportunities for communication, humour, laughter and support.

It’s a basic human need to be able to communicate with people, feel like you’re seen, heard and that you belong somewhere. All this helps us feel safe. The idea of physical distancing can suggest loss of contact and loneliness, but it needn’t.

I live in a small apartment within a five storey complex, a relative stranger among 70 or so other residents. Since moving here nine months ago, most of my neighbours were just friendly strangers I saw in the lift or carpark. But thanks to COVID-19 my sense of neighbourhood has changed. Three days ago I came across a handwritten message on the noticeboard in the building foyer, inviting all residents to join closed Facebook group. Overnight this small effort by a woman called Nadia led to immediate connection and offers of support throughout the building.

It’s really bizarre the difference this nasty virus has made to our collective sense of safety and belonging.

The invitation initially broke the ice. The people I saw in the common areas were automatically chatty and inquisitive. And online, people felt safe enough to express their needs and fears without judgment. Several people offered to share toilet paper, as well as fresh herbs grown in courtyards. Others said they’d fetch groceries and walk dogs. My neighbour Justin had made pesto...and it was delicious! He told me he’d previously had bad experiences of living here. His nearest neighbours were quite rude, and he was on the verge of moving out. Now he feels supported and connected.

I met two neighbours who also work in mental health and know about Wellways – which was quite amazing. And I discovered the joyful news that two new babies will be neighbours in the near future.

There's also a lot of humour about the stuff that goes wrong in the building, including the regular false fire alarms when we evacuate and congregate outside while the fire fighters come and go. The joke allowed us to discuss how we might better support elderly and disabled people to evacuate in the event of an actual fire.

While my story relates specifically to a wonderful means of connecting via Facebook, I’ve also heard of other neighbourhood approaches. While I’m writing this my daughter has been drafting a note to drop in letter boxes in her area. Due to the virus she is losing work shifts and has more time on her hands. On the flyer she expresses her willingness to voluntarily help people out, with errands, support and other needs. This helps me believe that people will be ok, and suggests there must be many other imaginative ways we make the most of this challenging time.

Maybe there’s something you can do to increase your sense of connection and belonging in this crisis, or to help others feel supported and resourced?

Cassy NunanDr Cassy Nunan (PhD)
Consultant, Advocacy and Leadership

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