Communities Building Stronger Social Connections

Cover of "Hey Neighbour!" report

Last Spring, PlanH launched a new funding stream aimed at helping communities thrive by creating strong social environments and communities in which all people feel welcome and included. Social connectedness — both the sum of individual relationships and a sense of belonging — is crucial to overall health and wellbeing. When people feel more connected to their community, they’re more likely to engage and participate as members of that community.

Seven communities were successful under the Social Connectedness — Cultivating Connections stream of the PlanH grant program. Projects got underway in August of 2017.  

Near the halfway point of the projects’ timelines, in March 2018, BC Healthy Communities hosted a networking and learning session which allowed participants to learn about the exciting progress other communities have made with their projects and about some of the actions that they could take to better support the long-term sustainability of projects. The true breadth and diversity of all the projects became very apparent during this session; we at BC Healthy Communities were very impressed with the unique ideas and methods used to support stronger connections in all of these communities.

Here is a little snapshot of what some of these communities are doing with the PlanH supports received to date:

Tofino — West Coast Community Connections: Bridging our Youth.

The Bridging our Youth project focuses on youth between the ages of 11 – 21 in eight remote communities along the west coast. Youth have been the demographic most in need, due to a lack of consistent youth programs and services in the West Coast region, with a particular identified need to better connect youth among the communities

Before launching, project coordinators hosted a meeting with youth workers to discuss program ideas. They established a committee with reps from the District of Tofino, the West Coast Resource Society, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, who came together to award small grants for youth-focused projects within the communities. They have since had two funding rounds, with ten projects now funded.

The first funding round supported a set of diverse projects, including a skate day, a youth art night, a youth conference and a junior Surfrider chapter. The second round supported a weekly sports night, two cultural craft workshops, song writing and hip-hop workshops, a youth carving program, and a youth choir.

Since the start of this project, their Community Foundation partner, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust (CBT), has witnessed how popular the West Coast Community Connections: Bridging our Youth program has become. For their 2018 funding cycle, the CBT's Youth & Education granting committee identified youth-driven projects as a funding priority. This will continue building the momentum gained with the West Coast Community Connections: Bridging our Youth program.

Vancouver – Hey Neighbour!

Hey Neighbour! is a pilot program working to create a better sense of belonging and connection in multi-unit residential buildings in the City of Vancouver. Research indicates that social connections are lower amongst those who rent and also amongst those who live in higher density dwellings. There are two different buildings participating in this pilot – one a 21-story building with about 500 residents, the second a 6-story building with about 90 residents.

The program relies on Resident Animators appointed within each of the buildings. Residents of the building themselves, the Animators’ role is to experiment with activities and events to bring neighbours together. By empowering residents to act as champions within their building, the project aims to “socially retrofit” existing market rental buildings to become friendlier, more inclusive and resilient communities.  

The larger building has already held a meet and greet with food and snacks to launch the project. Their first events included a morning walk and coffee, and an Easter egg hunt. In both projects, the City has built a strong partnership with the buildings’ Property Management companies to build support for the long-term sustainability of the program. The project will create a Toolkit of Ideas for Resident Animators to contribute to and draw from. This resource will be available for other projects to use to help develop their own Hey Neighbour!-style program.

Surrey – The Connected Clayton Family Project

Surrey’s project focuses on family connections in Clayton, a neighbourhood that has seen dramatic growth and development over the last 10-15 years. The project’s coordinators have been engaging residents through conversations and surveys to help identify root causes and innovative action around issues of disconnectedness. More than 130 residents have been part of the conversation, and a neighbourhood survey generated 850 responses. The findings are helping to build the foundation for future collaborations between stakeholders and community groups. The project’s next steps are to share their findings with the community, and to identify community leaders/champions who will set the stage and create opportunities for connections within their neighbourhood.

Nanaimo – Come to the Table

Nanaimo’s project aims to provide opportunities for neighbours to meet and connect with one another in a fun and informal manner over shared meals. Three diverse neighbourhoods were chosen as settings for the project.

With much support from their project partners, the project co-ordinators will be doing some pre-canvassing to find out more about the residents in these neighbourhoods, asking questions like “how many neighbours do you know?” Over the coming months, co-ordinators will hold a Sunday breakfast, a Saturday BBQ lunch, and a Friday night sit down dinner in each of the neighbourhoods. This will provide the chance for neighbours to connect, sowing the seeds for the formation of long-term relationships in the community. Residents will then have the opportunity to take on their own neighbourhood project, with some funding and support.

Dease River First Nation – Social Connections

Located just south of the Yukon border, Dease River First Nation’s project is focusing on connecting elders between the Lower Post and Good Hope Lake regions, which are geographically divided. These communities form part of the ancestral territory of the migratory Kaska Dena people.

The impact of the residential school system was very traumatic for the Kaska Dena. Due to the remoteness of the region, they have few opportunities to connect with one another to help the healing process. The project supports monthly gatherings where participants enjoy traditional foods. They choose a variety of locations to host the monthly events and have access to a vehicle and driver to pick up and drop off those who need transportation. The gatherings also have an educational component, which is participatory and experiential. So far, workshops have been held on elder abuse, recreational programming, nutrition for elders, and lateral kindness. They have also organized a Christmas gathering and at each event provide time to share stories and enjoy unscheduled social time with food. The hope is that the project will help to empower elders to move forward into a culture of pride, inclusion and wellbeing amongst their people.

Okanagan Indian Band – Sharing One Skin: Social Connectedness with Syilx-Okanagan Culture and Land

The Sharing One Skin Program is running cultural camps with 60-70 participants. They’ve had one-day events that include rope making, traditional language workshops of the Okanagan-Syilx First Peoples, mask making, traditional feast with moose elk, deer, salmon, trout, grouse, and even sturgeon. Their next project will be a baby welcoming ceremony; eighteen babies have recently been born in the community.