Claire Sauvage-Mar is BC Healthy Communities’ former Grants & Engagement Coordinator.
In Vancouver, multi-unit housing is increasingly common. However, a sense of community can be low in these types of buildings. To combat the negative effects of loneliness and lack of social connectedness, which include a higher rate of mental illness and depression as well as worse overall cardiovascular health (Leigh-Hunt et al., 2017), it takes more than an occasional nod in the elevator. It takes a revolution in the attitude we have towards our neighbours.
In 2018, with support from a PlanH grant, the City of Vancouver piloted the Hey Neighbour! initiative to explore how resident-led leadership might create more socially-connected buildings. In two participating buildings, resident animators (RAs) worked with city staff and building managers to organize skill-sharing events, walking clubs, emergency preparedness workshops and other social activities to bring people together. PlanH featured this project in a community story in 2019.
Thanks to its resounding success, the initial project has now become a multi-year, multi-stakeholder initiative, building community and resilience in multi-unit housing. The newly-formed Hey Neighbour Collective is now housed at the SFU Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue. It has expanded to include landlords and property management companies in Vancouver, New Westminster, Victoria and Penticton, as well as researchers and other community partners. The collaborative spirit grew out of the Hey Neighbour! Advisory Committee hosted by the City of Vancouver, which developed into an informal community of practice. Eventually, the partners decided to keep the momentum going. They now host a formal, facilitated community of practice for their partners, and connect them with professional researchers to document the impacts of their varied programs aimed at building community and resilience.
“It made sense. It made a lot of strategic sense. From a funding perspective, a partner perspective and a research perspective, there’s so much we could do together,” says Francis Heng, who coordinated the pilot and continues to work with the next stage of the Hey Neighbour Collective. “Everyone’s tackling this idea of loneliness and social isolation from different spaces, and we all want similar outcomes.”
Currently, Heng is transferring much of their knowledge from the pilot, including getting to know partners and getting a “sense of the building”. They see huge potential in the next phase of the project.
“I’m constantly pleasantly surprised by how excited everybody is [about the Hey Neighbour Collective]. Maybe we just hit on a concept that a lot of people really feel like they need,” says Michelle Hoar, project director for the Hey Neighbour Collective. “Whether or not we would say that we’re lonely or isolated, I think most people would like to feel more connected to others than they are.”
As British Columbia continues to densify, folks from all backgrounds will seek connection to one another. The success of Hey Neighbour! is an example of sustainable, multi-sectoral action to tackle loneliness and social isolation, one building at a time.
Leigh-Hunt, N., Bagguley, D., Bash, K., Turner, V., Turnbull, S., Valtorta, N., Caan, W. An overview of systematic reviews on the public health consequences of social isolation and loneliness. Public Health (152). 2017 Nov 1:157-71.
Author Credit: Claire Sauvage-Mar