Like many parts of the world, Australia is experiencing a pandemic of loneliness. We are withdrawing from community groups and participating less in civic activities. We even say hi at the letterboxes or in the lifts less frequently than we used to. Loneliness has a range of adverse effects on the individual – impacts on mental health, cognitive function, physical health and immune system function and can even lead to premature death. It, of course, has a flow on effect on our civic-mindedness and neighbourly interactions.
Much is being done right now to highlight the need for community interventions to combat Australia’s loneliness pandemic. In 2016 Endling Loneliness Together was established to bring together like-minded groups to develop the evidence base for measuring loneliness. Recently, the Grimshaw Foundation released a report with KPMG calling for ‘public, private, and not-for-profit organisations to prioritise and address loneliness’. Every day, many organisations strive to bring communities together. The Little BIG Foundation is one of those organisations.
“We are pleased to present our first report on social connection in the Summer Hill/Lewisham Little BIG Community. This report has been prepared in partnership with Social Ventures Australia to draw our first ‘metaphorical line in the sand’ baselining loneliness and social connectivity in the community we strive to support”.Sarah Mathews
Throughout 2020, the Little BIG Foundation sought to brighten the days of our neighbours who had been locked away in their homes due to Covid-19. We arranged jazz bands to perform for people who could listen from the safety of their balconies. We left pancake mixes on doorsteps to have a building-wide cooking competition from home. We dropped off ‘What’s Your Story’ conversation cards in letterboxes, and suggested ways neighbours could connect whilst remaining socially distant. In February of 2021, we opened the doors to the Little BIG House, a dedicated community hub that allows people to connect over initiatives they can do that are ‘good for the hood’.
The journey is not always smooth; not all programs are overnight successes, but we are in the midst of ‘doing the doing’. We are learning by trialling ideas and constantly evolving what we offer and how we work with the community.
So, what have we learned about social connection in this community through this survey?
Our survey shows that residents of Summer Hill / Lewisham have average levels of loneliness but higher levels of social contact compared to Australia; however, it indicates that they have weaker local community connections. They know fewer neighbours’ names and participate less in community groups.
Yet there is still something in the air here. 69% feel they live in a kind and caring community, and 56% are recipients of acts of kindness occasionally. With 40% of the community currently unhappy with the number of neighbours they know, this presents an exciting opportunity.
How is the Little BIG House contributing?
The survey shows that residents strongly value having local community spaces to interact, and many feel strongly about the value that the Little BIG House brings to their community. Some have already felt the impact of the space, describing new friendships they’ve made through interactions there.
– 87% feel it is important to have physical spaces for community interaction
– 86% of respondents had attended at least one Little BIG event
– 25% of people had met someone new through a Little BIG event
We are proud to have had 48 volunteers & partners activating the space through various volunteering roles and hosting community events. In 2022, we have been able to offer 69 different programs of over 1,500 individual events. That’s over 17,000 “Little BIG Moments” (opportunities for social connection that would not have happened without the work of these volunteers).
What can you do to be a part of this movement?
If you are a local to the Summer Hill Little BIG House we urge you to come forward to actively curate this space. To help the 40% of people who want to connect with their neighbours, we need to start right next door. Maybe you are interested in our newly created Volunteer Community Engagement role?
Finally, we ask the real estate sector to think about how they are responsible for the urban environments in which we all live and consider that they have an ongoing commitment to the communities they have established. We thank EG for continuing their commitment to the Summer Hill/Lewisham community into 2022.