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The WellConnectedNZ research project takes a co-creator and interdisciplinary approach to understanding and improving social connection in Christchurch.
While the project is partially funded by the Ministry of Health and certainly addresses health and health navigation, the focus is on how people with
long term conditions can develop and maintain meaningful social connection with others in their community, with improved health outcomes as a secondary benefit.
Over the past 18 months we have listened to more than 200 people, particularly in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch, including:
· individuals and their whanau,
· medical, health, and rehabilitation practitioners,
· service providers, and
· community workers.
While we anticipated that we’d find a lack of activities, especially as a result of the effects of the earthquakes on the eastern suburbs, what we’ve actually found in these extensive conversations is encouraging.
There are already well-established, vibrant, and diverse spaces of true social connection throughout Christchurch, including in the eastern suburbs. While some of these are within or alongside the health care system, many others are outside of it: social clubs, support networks, neighbourhood groups.
In other words, to strengthen social connection, we don’t need to invent new programmes, provide new services, or create more social spaces or groups.
Instead, we need to work to help make the existing ones more welcoming, accessible, and easy to find.
A younger person who talked with us said that because of ongoing health problems and a lack of family in the area, she found linking up with other people in her neighbourhood with the help of a community worker made all the difference in her outlook and feelings of wellbeing. The change she felt was so profound that she now hopes to offer the same kind of encouragement to others who are isolated.
“I genuinely don’t know where I would be without having someone come and connect with me, just to point me in the right direction”
Giving and receiving are more interwoven than is often acknowledged in medical and health care systems, as illustrated again and again by our co-creator groups, who demonstrate the interwoven nature of community outside of formal programmes controlled by gatekeepers.
We have used a Maori framework to ask about social connection and this has enabled us to see the ways in which individual and collective wellbeing are intimately tied to concepts of interconnection, caring, collective capabilities, and self-determination.
Indeed, WellConnectedNZ’s co-creator groups have told us that a healthy community is driven by a belief in the social capital inherent in that community.
Nearing the completion of this project, we are enthusiastically undertaking several exciting sub-projects to mobilise what we’ve heard with our co-creator groups:
The development of a free map available for anyone (including GPs, social workers, whanau, etc) to use to identify interesting ways to facilitate social connection with other people;
A research project examining the role of community health navigators in reducing social isolation for clients; and
Multiple academic and scholarly papers that report on the team’s findings about the intersections of social connection and health/wellbeing.
At #WellConnectedNZ, we value supporting others in making meaningful connections, and we’d
love to connect with you, too!
You can find us on Facebook and Twitter,and you can also
get in touch with us via email