How to connect people within, and between neighbourhoods and communities

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Isolation has a toxic effect on people’s physical and mental health. Those with fewest assets fare the worst. At the extreme, social exclusion in the form of harassment and violence can lead to suicide.

Both strong and weak ties are important in connecting people. ‘Strong ties’ include mentoring a young person, being a neighbourhood watch organiser, providing meals, membership of social and special interest clubs. ‘

'Weak ties’, providing bits of practical help like lending a ladder, offering advice such as what to do when faced with situations such as housing eviction and being a source of kindness and empathy at times of stress.

Asset-Based Areas help people develop and strengthen their ties through local collective action, friendships and support networks and ensure that communities are inclusive of all.

Enable everyone to give as well as receive

We all gain by being able to give as well as receive. Focus on abilities and help people use them to help others.

  •  Moira is elderly, lives in residential care, is wheelchair-bound, has arthritis in both hands, but still retains her great ability to engage anyone in conversation. She enjoys contributing to her local contact line, regularly chatting by phone with other people.

Open up community activities to all

Clubs and activity groups, with their associated social networks are central to communities but are not necessarily open to all. This is often not a conscious policy. Support them to understand what it means to be inclusive and how they can also gain from it.

  • John, a crack darts player dropped out of his team as his dementia made it difficult for him to continue participating.  It was only when the team worked out that it was the scoring, and deciding which numbers to aim for, that were preventing him from participating that things changed. Helped by team members to get oriented in front of the board, he is once again able to use his skills. John is now back in the team and they are winning.

Borrow a dog

Public places where people can meet others, whether deliberately or by chance, enable the development of ‘weak ties’. Check out your local public places, who does and does not use them and work out how people could use them to build connections.

  • Walking a dog in a park is a good icebreaker and allows conversations to develop into other areas, so help people borrow a dog.

Make connecting central to commissioning

Try this:

  • See it my way – enable people who access services to use the TLAP Making It Real markers to show how they experience their local neighbourhoods and identify personal and community change priorities.
  • Connecting individuals – ensure all individual level commissioning processes enable people to maintain and develop connections within their communities.
  • Invest in community development – for example, through asset-based community development; community connectors, local area coordination.
  • Contract for connection – require all service suppliers to demonstrate how their practice contributes to building strong, inclusive communities. 

Links to all of the above innovations and more can be found in:

Alex Fox. (2017) The Asset-Based Area. Online: Coalition for Collaborative Care, Shared Lives Plus, and Think Local Act Personal. 

Richard Field and Clive Miller. (2017) Asset-based commissioning: better outcomes, better value. Bournemouth: Bournemouth University. Available as a free download, in both its full (215 pp) and digested versions (11pp).