Regeneration encourages people to get connected to other people. Good connections improve health and happiness. So, how connected are our project participants?
This theme, over two sessions, asked our participants to think about connections, particularly people and places in the community that they feel connected to and what connects them. People were asked to talk about neighbours and about professional people, agencies and organisations. People also reflected on what would help them get involved in a new community project or initiative.
This is a pictorial representation of what people told us. It is only a part of a bigger image which you can right click and save to your desktop as an A4 poster here.
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“A good neighbour is a gem."
“Just being a neighbour means an effort is necessary."
In other of our questions the importance of neighbours has been highlighted. This helped us to talk more about connections with neighbours in this question.
“Being a good neighbour is about give and take."
Many experiences of neighbours are positive. The good neighbour is a helpful neighbour. The most noticeable help neighbours give to each other are around the practical day to day things. People like it when their neighbours bring the bin in, or take their washing in if it’s raining, or take in a parcel for them. Some people also have neighbours who will go a bit further and keep an eye on the kids if they need to nip to the shops. Some neighbours understand the caring responsibilities people have; and are supportive when a carer is struggling or tired.
“I don’t care what people look like, I just want a quiet life."
“I wouldn’t change a thing. I like my neighbours and I like being neighbourly."
People like to live near people that are friendly. Saying hello and smiling as you pass people are important if neighbourhoods are to feel friendly and welcoming.
“It’s just about being considerate over simple things."
Children were seen as one of the most effective ways to get connected to your neighbours. This can be because you meet and talk to each other near school, or when the kids are out playing. Some people talked about going out in the street with kids and teaching them games and having fun, although it was thought this was becoming rarer and was a real miss in many communities.
“I get out and play with the kids. Not every parent does this but if they don’t they miss out. It’s really important to teach your kids the traditional games."
“Our neighbours wee boy just wanders in, it’s made us more neighbourly, I encourage it."
However some people have worries about letting their children out unsupervised because of the behaviour of other children, young people or adults who live in their street.
“I like to have a house where you can see your children playing."
Some children’s behaviour leaves people feeling ill at ease or even frightened. Some of this fear is recognised as being based on bad experiences, but the media also make adults fearful of children and young people, and this stop us getting connected.
“There’s really a lack of parental control and discipline. You should hear the language they use, I mean the parents. If parents have no respect for their children you can’t blame the youngsters."
“Maybe its about us, maybe our expectations are lower just because they’re younger people."
“Kids can be a positive influence and bring people together. But maybe adults are less tolerant of children, or maybe the papers make us feel less safe about kids?”
The most common issue raised that can be problematic about neighbours was the noise they make - music, shouting, motorbikes were all mentioned – and the mess they leave in gardens and on the street – dumped sofas, fridges and car maintenance were all identified. These issues impact on all our contributors, either now or in past tenancies.
“There’s mess everywhere, electrical appliances dumped in the front garden, really visible, it’s just not nice to see."
“There are so many problem families we just feel overwhelmed now, it’s just too much to cope with."
“Your immediate neighbours can be fantastic but you still find yourself in a street with violence, fires, dumped cars. Some people do try to keep their gardens nice around here but they’re just targeted. If you’re different you’re suspicious. Some streets haven’t changed in 20 years."
Being connected to your neighbours can be influenced by the physical barriers that fences and walls create between people. Having a garden protected from people walking through it, or having fences to stop litter and refuse being dumped was much appreciated, but people also wanted fences that still meant they could talk to neighbours.
There were views across contributors about the mix of neighbours they liked to have in their neighbourhood: older people, families with grown up children, families with young children, people with no children, and younger people with no children. There was recognition that streets change over time, and so the connections you have with people also change.
“A neighbourhood changes, older people pass away and new people bring changes. Like when I arrived. I moved in with kids and that must have been a bit of a worry for people."
Some people liked a mix of types of tenant, others not. There were some concerns about neighbourhoods and streets where a lot of families with problem behaviour and other needs were housed together.
“I think the problems start when you mix younger people or families with teenagers with older people. I feel safer with older people."
“I’m a mum living with my wee boy but I prefer older neighbours. I can have conversations with them. I’d worry that younger people would be a nightmare. I bet me arriving here caused them some worry but I made an effort and I appreciate them. I told them I wouldn’t be a bother and if I was they should talk to me."
Housing providers were seen as having a responsibility to consider the composition of neighbourhoods.
“What kind of policy is it to offer lone parents that are struggling a house in a struggling area?”
“I prefer older people as neighbours but some thought does need to go into who’s who, like a young family moving in above older people, it can work but it needs thinking about."
For some of our contributors, not by any means just our older participants, there was a sense of loss about the way neighbours used to be.
“Then, if someone was ill you would sit with them, do their washing. You’d never see anybody stuck."
“Just thinking back to growing up, people were good, they shared things, good ordinary working people that were helpful. You’re likely now to get an attitude of ‘don’t let the neighbours in."
At the heart of positive feelings about neighbours, or concerns about them, is the experience of trust and how that links to being able to rely on people, as these two different views express:
“Young ones don’t help anymore. You’re not safe if you don’t lock your door, people are frightened."
“My big thing is about trust. If you can trust someone you can rely on them. You can suss this out. It’s especially important for me because I need them to understand and be supportive about my son’s disability and needs."
“It’s about trust. Yeah, I would leave the key with her to feed the fish. It works both ways."
However for some people there are limited opportunities to meet or get to know neighbours. Some people do not feel connected at all to the people who live in the same block. People can feel particularly isolated when they aren’t mobile enough to get out in their garden or get to the local shops. They stop seeing and speaking to people informally. Some older people have lost their valued connections to neighbours because they have had to move to housing which is more suitable to their limited mobility in later life.
“I’ve been the longest here, in this street, but often now I just don’t see people. I’ve got new neighbours and I don’t know who they are."
“There’s nobody I’d rely on here anymore."
“We’re not a problem; we just don’t talk to anyone."
“I lived in that house for 34 years. In the gardens people would speak to each other, never gossip. But I needed to move because I couldn’t cope with the house. I’ve lived here for 13 years but don’t know anybody now."
Participants also talked about how to get connected to neighbours and they suggested people should:
Talk to each other when you have the chance – at times like hanging out the washing
Talk to people but don’t pry
Don’t be too much in people’s face, respect their privacy
Have a cup of tea together if you feel like it
Encourage your kids to share toys
Help with cleaning up any mess
Don’t park where your neighbour usually parks
Be aware of what they might appreciate you doing for them.
“There needs to be a need to get involved. Like I did my neighbours garden because he was older and couldn’t manage anymore."
“I’d like to think I’m a good neighbour, that a neighbour would never be afraid to ask me for help. To have good neighbours you have to be a good neighbour."
One person identified older members of the community as a key resource in building neighbourly connections:
“Maybe it’s like the older neighbour should be like the teacher?”
The most valued connections to agencies or projects were with those which offered opportunities to meet other people, and to do so in a safe and non stigmatising environment.
“You need somewhere to go and meet people. Just if you fancy going in and having a coffee. A safe place you can leave when you want to."
“I feel its much better being at the day centre than sitting at home looking at the four walls. It’s easy to get morbid at home."
When these social opportunities also provided the choice of being able to discuss or check out a particular shared issue or concern they were even more helpful.
“I can come here and talk to any of the workers. I can talk about stuff and not have anything held against me."
Equally important is that services which offer people opportunities to meet up also need to be creatively and carefully planned and delivered, making them feel participative, purposeful and enjoyable:
“I feel connected because of the things that happen there, from card making to debates and massage. They involve me in what I’d like to do while I’m there. The people that run it care for me and ask me what I want. They spend time talking to me."
“I saw an advert in the paper I think. It was a spur of the moment phone call that made me more confident, independent, and aware of other people’s feelings."
As has been highlighted in our other questions for many people a good connection with a professional person or agency is based on trust and confidentiality.
“I can talk openly and share feelings here in confidence. I’ve been able to build understanding and friendships with the people I’ve met through the project."
For some people having children is an opportunity to get connected; from toddlers groups to Brownies to football training there is an opportunity to meet others and get involved in volunteering to provide things for other children in the community. For this to happen people recognise the importance of easily accessible local meeting places from community centres to church halls.
The post office, the library the corner shop and the community centre were also seen as important places; particularly in the lives of people who feel or have felt vulnerable and isolated. Along with all services the key to the importance of getting connected to such places is the importance of them being within reach – in other words being local.
“We go to the family nights at the community centre, meet up with friends that I was at school with. I wouldn’t see them otherwise. It’s about socialising, keeping up to date with one another. Sometimes if you’re working it’s not always easy."
The importance of the workplace – both paid work and voluntary work – was identified by participants. Connections with work colleagues were important to people. The importance of being valued as a contributor in these environments mattered to people. As one contributor joked about their boss: “He says that I’m precious!." For another person “Work’s about being independent. I enjoy it."
Some people have also recognised that connections can be difficult to manage or sustain. This is particularly so when feeling anxious or depressed, these feelings influence how confident or able you are to face the world. These experiences can also mean it’s difficult to connect with agencies who expect you to keep appointments.
When our contributors reflect on connections to professional people or places that feel important they often returned to the qualities of the individual professional as they key to their success:
“The best thing is I always get a smile, a warm welcome, support when I need it. I get motivated. It’s the people that make the place."
Some of the connections described were with individual professionals: Health Visitors, Day Centre staff, GPs, Care Staff and Key Workers were all identified. They were valued for ensuring human contact in a day, for bringing humour as well as bringing practical help with things like shopping.
Some of the most helpful professional connections described by people have been built and sustained over time; people value workers who they have built relationships with, who understand their life journeys, and who offer consistent support.
“We’ve been connected since my kids were small. From check up and jabs though my depression and relationship stuff. She’s offered advice on different subjects and helped me get in touch with different professionals."
Getting connected to agencies led some people to build new friendships, or redefine old ones. The supportive connections which had enhanced their lives began to enhance those of others.
“I’ve developed this surprise connection to someone I’ve known for 10 years, someone I used to only know quite casually. She’s always seemed so self assured but yesterday when I said ‘how are you?’ instead of the expected ‘fine’ she told me how down she feels and her anger about that. When I told her I had suffered from anxiety and depression she said ‘You don’t look the type’. What’s the type? I thought. She was full of admiration that I’m going to a support group. So we had this connection because I’ve been there, I’m only just coming to terms with my depression. She’d never spoken to anyone, I offered support. I’ll help her and that helps me. It’s taken me 9 years to get to this point. I felt proud to have spoken up. It’s a big step for me to help someone else."
When connections with an agency bring benefits for the individual those connections are strong and long-lasting. Through engaging with helping agencies some contributors have begun to volunteer themselves, or are thinking about doing so, each having a desire to help others and express their thanks for the positives which have come from their connections.
“I got asked to come and I’ve never left. As a volunteer I hope to give something back to the community, just as the project gave something to me. They cannae get rid of me!”
Our participants were asked to think about some opportunities to get connected to some local/community projects. The idea was to pick at least one of the imaginary scenarios (four were offered for consideration, see below) and identify what would help them get involved, and what would stop them getting involved.
The scenarios offered for consideration were:
Scenario 1: A new community clean up project will be going to local parks to make them safer and cleaner for everyone to use. You can go along to any of the ‘big clean up days’ that are being advertised…
Scenario 2: Some local people have been talking about setting up a new group that will help people that are isolated or vulnerable in the community. First thing is to get some people together to talk about the idea. An invitation comes through the door from a neighbour to come to the first meeting at a local community project…
Scenario 3: A new community café has just opened. You get an invitation to come along and have a coffee and see what it’s like….
Scenario 4: The AB Place is a new day centre that’s just about to open. During the day it will have lots of activities and things to do for older people and for Mums or Dads with wee kids. The project needs volunteers…
What helps you to get involved? People liked:
Invitations that you can mull over – as opposed to being put on the spot
Knowing someone else involved – a local person or a professional person
Knowing it will be sustained over time
Clear information about what getting involved entails
A personal connection to the core issue – for example someone in the family might need such a service (or would have benefited if there had been when they needed it)
Clear and visible impact and benefits – if it feels worthwhile
If it will be enjoyable, have a fun element
A choice of how to get involved, and what you might do, there being different ways to help
Incentives – as basic as a cup of tea or the kids can play while you’re involved
Good leadership and management – knowing that organisations like the Council are fully involved
Having the time
Transport if you need it
Crèche facility if you need it.
And what would stop you getting involved? People said:
Not having enough information about what is entailed in getting involved
If you think it won’t be sustained
If there isn’t enough to do
If it doesn’t feel safe to be there or you don’t feel safe getting there
If it clashes with work
If you think other people won’t be interested, if there isn’t a critical mass to make it feel worthwhile
A lack of confidence; if you don’t feel you are as valued or worth as much as other people involved
Feeling too old to get involved
Worry that it might demand too much of you
A lack of help with caring responsibilities.
What can we learn? Our top ten tips for engaging people in community projects are:
Provide clear, targeted, personalised information
Build on existing and trusted connections and interests
Communicate confidence in the longevity and sustainability of the initiative
Describe the personal and community benefits of the initiative
Provide confident leadership
Commit time and resources to engaging enough people
Recognise and address any lack of self confidence among the potential audience
Make it flexible and fit people’s other commitments
Tackle the practical barriers, most commonly transport and caring responsibilities
Make it fun…and thank people.
What implications are there for regeneration activity, either in terms of policy or practice of service providers from our conversations about connectedness? To what extent does regeneration activity build connections between people?
The information from the responses to this question leads to these questions for the agencies managing regeneration activity:
When it comes to getting people connected, does regeneration activity:
Engage with residents individually, in blocks, streets or neighbourhoods to think about what being a good neighbour might mean; especially when it comes to the key characteristics of trust and reliability?
Help residents to identify what they can do for each other in very practical day to day ways to build connections?
Work through schools and other community facilities (community centres, health centres) and the voluntary sector to build a network of social, leisure and cultural activities for children, which in turn can be used to enhance adult connections?
Address negative and fearful inter-generational attitudes; and support opportunities for positive inter-generational activity?
Utilise the older members of the community as a resource to help others remember and learn about what a good neighbour is?
Enhance the physical environment and work with neighbours who pollute and make noise to understand, correct and change their behaviour?
Encourage discussion in neighbourhoods about the mix of residents who live there and work together to consider and plan for what might be needed to support this mix?
Understand and work to connect the most isolated and vulnerable people to their neighbours and to community based professionals and organisations?
Support a network of community based, local services which can provide a mix of social support and expert help and advice; and with the key characteristics of trust and confidentiality?
Build understanding amongst service providers of their responsibility to work in ways which support people living with mental ill-health and caring responsibilities to maintain connections to the network of support they need?
Encourage service providers to recognise and work to provide consistency in staffing/personnel?
Encourage and support volunteering?
Ensure that service providers understand and act upon the guidance for engaging local people in community projects which has been outlined earlier as our ‘top ten tips for community engagement’?