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Community Connections: Why Geelong needs them now.

September 8, 2020

Feeling lonely now and again is a natural part of the human condition – but the continued lack of contact between an individual and society that is characteristic of social isolation can be extremely damaging.

 

There is substantial evidence to suggest that social isolation is a significant contributor to a range of health conditions. The American Center for Disease Control linked a 29% increase in heart disease, a 32% increase in stroke and a 50% increase in dementia. There are now more than 70 peer-reviewed articles that rank social isolation as more damaging to one’s health than smoking or obesity. 

Further links to depression, anxiety and addiction are not surprising – and many who become socially isolated disengage from educational and economic participation for extended periods. Ultimately it erodes the happiness and sense of wellbeing that can give a person resilience during a life crisis.

Sadly, across the wider Geelong region (as much as anywhere) social isolation appears to unevenly affect the vulnerable members of our community. Migrants, the elderly, disabled persons, unemployed and those from difficult domestic situations are amongst those who experience social isolation at much higher levels than the general population.

Social isolation erodes the happiness and sense of wellbeing that can give a person resilience during a life crisis.

Social Isolation in the Age of COVID

Of course, dealing with Social Isolation during the depths of the COVID pandemic is a formidable challenge.

Typical touchstones for community connection like sporting clubs, places of worship, recreational facilities and public places are closed, and the majority of our interactions are generally limited to the telephone or the internet.

Many who before COVID were connected to their community are increasingly finding themselves isolated, and those who were already isolated from the community are now even more isolated.

As we all spend more times in our homes, cut off from friends, family and colleagues, the lack of physical connection can become challenging. In these circumstances, it is no surprise that people are feeling increasingly worried, anxious, overwhelmed and lonely.

 

How do we fight Social Isolation?

Community connectedness is the antidote to social isolation – and this attitude forms the basis of the Give Where You Live Foundation’s actions and initiatives to tackle the growing problem.

If the Geelong Community is to thrive the promotion of community connections is essential. Strong ties with family, friends and the community provide people with happiness, security, support, and a sense of purpose. And that this connectedness builds resilience in people. The resilience that can assist people in coping with a life crisis.

Our CEO Bill Mithen spoke about what constitutes a community connection and why the Give Where You Live Foundation helps those dealing with social isolation. “Community Connection is about people understanding each other and understanding each other’s lives and challenges to the extent that they need to so they can offer help and support.”

Bill also spoke to what makes a good community. “A good community is a community that supports all of its members – whoever they might be – so that the most vulnerable members of our community are not forgotten.”

However, there are still the previously mentioned roadblocks put in place by the current COVID pandemic that have hindered the establishment of meaningful community connections.

Programs that promote community connectedness need support in order to reduce the impact of social isolation during Covid.

What is the Give Where You Live Foundation doing to foster community connections during COVID?

Ultimately, connecting the community and reducing social isolation is part of the DNA of the Give Where You Live Foundation – and we foster them in several ways.

First and foremost, through the Community Connections Grant Round – a series of grants up to $10,000 supported by the AWA Alliance Bank – to support programs delivered across our community that are fostering community connections throughout the COVID crisis and beyond.

The Community Connections grant round has run for a few years now, but in the current climate community connection and engagement is more critical than ever.

This year’s community connections grant round has a broadened focus to include funding programs that are fostering:

  • The reduction of social isolation of vulnerable community members to promote resilience.
  • The support of social participation of vulnerable community members to promote resilience,
  • The assistance of social connection during the COVID-19 crisis, or
  • The support of community engagement activities to better understand the needs and challenges of the community during the COVID-19 crisis, so you are better able to support your community, or refer on to other services.

Bill Mithen said of the aim behind the grants as “a way of creating a rich tapestry of organisations that address social isolation and community connection in a myriad of different ways – because there are so many reasons and causes of social isolation.”

The Foundation has also launched the Geelong Purposeful Acts of Kindness (GPAK) Initiative, a platform for the community to share good news stories and ultimately connect the community even further. GPAK encourages community connections through these stories – encouraging social participation and positive interaction through interaction to help reduce isolation within the Greater Geelong Community. The platform also includes resources to help those wanting to connect with the community in other ways, including via volunteering opportunities, as well as a help directory for those in need.

As an organisation, combatting social isolation and driving community connections is a key priority for the Give Where You Live Foundation in the current context and into the future.