Virtual Neighbourhood Hub
What is a Virtual Neighbourhood Hub?
A Virtual Neighbourhood Hub is an online space designed to help you connect with your neighbours. It’s a place where you can get to know each other while social distancing, communicate about important issues, support any neighbours facing social isolation, and plan virtual social activities such as Virtual Block Parties.
Fighting the Effects of Social Isolation
Human Beings are social creatures. While maintaining a safe social distance is currently very important to the health of our community, the resulting reduction of physical and social contact with others can have a number of negative effects, including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity.
Those who are most at risk of facing social isolation are often those who are also most dramatically affected by it, particularly seniors, people living with physical or mental health challenges or disabilities, and those with low socioeconomic status.
Neighbours may be facing challenges you are not aware of, and that aren’t immediately visible. It’s more important than ever to reach out to your community and to share resources and support.
Safe Seniors, Strong Communities
The Safe Seniors, Strong Communities Program matches seniors who need support with non-medical essentials with volunteers in their community who are willing to help. To register for services, or to offer help, call 211 or go to BC 211 website.
The good news is that social connection – even without physical contact – can help reduce these symptoms. Creating a Virtual Neighbourhood Hub can be a great way to start strengthening social connections within your neighbourhood.
Creating a Virtual Neighbourhood Hub
A Virtual Neighbourhood Hub can be created using any social media site or communication service that allows multiple users to post messages and images. Services that provide tools for creating events, running surveys, and communicating using audio and video chat are especially helpful.
Some of the services you might consider for your Virtual Neighbourhood Hub include:
If you already have a couple of neighbours on Facebook, consider creating a Facebook Group for your neighbourhood. Once you have it set up, invite the neighbours you are already connected with, and encourage them to extend the invitation to anyone else in the neighbourhood they might know. If you have neighbours’ phone numbers or e-mail addresses, you can also send them an invitation link. Once in a group, you can easily share ideas and create events, even without adding all of your neighbours as friends. You can also connect with your neighbours over audio and video chat using Facebook Messenger.
Nextdoor is a social network specifically designed to connect neighbours. When creating an account, you will be prompted to put in your address. From there, you will be connected with other users in your area on topics such as local events, lost and found items, crime and safety concerns, and buying and selling things. While the geographic area of your neighbourhood might be a bit larger than your specific street, you can create Groups and Events specifically aimed at residents of your street and invite them either directly through Nextdoor or by email.
One advantage to Nextdoor over Facebook is that because it is designed to connect people by geographic area, you can potentially connect with your neighbours even if you don’t already have any of their contact information. However, it is worth noting that Nextdoor does not have a built-in means to connect with other users by audio or video chat, so you will need to use another service for any virtual social gatherings.
Whatsapp is a messaging app (available for iOS and Android devices) that allows for group messages, as well as audio and video chat. Your Whatsapp account is connected to your phone number, and you can automatically import contacts from your phone. While Whatsapp isn’t necessarily designed for planning events, its Group Messages feature will allow you to share your ideas and photos, and can be used for video chat when it comes time for any virtual gatherings.
Getting the Word Out
Once you’ve figured out how you want to connect with your neighbours, it’s time to invite them to join you. Here are just a few ways you can reach out to your neighbours without meeting face-to-face:
Likely the fastest and most direct method is to e-mail out a link to your Virtual Neighbourhood Hub to any neighbours you have email for, and to invite them to do the same.
Poster / Written Notice
If you are in an apartment or townhouse complex with a message board, make up a quick poster to let your neighbours know about your Virtual Neighbourhood Hub and invite them to join.
Sometimes the old fashioned way is also the most effective. Write (or print) invitations and leave them on the doorstep of your neighbours. This will help avoid interacting with common touch points such as mailboxes and mail slots.
Introductions and Icebreakers
Once you have your Virtual Neighbourhood Hub set up and invitations sent out, it’s time for introductions! As the organizer, take the lead by introducing yourself and leading a light icebreaker to help set a positive tone and structure for getting to know each other.
Here are a few suggestions:
Ask three questions you’d like everyone in the group to answer, then answer them yourself. Consider that some people may be answering on behalf of their family, so consider asking questions that they can weigh in on and come to a group consensus. Examples might include:
- “What is your favourite food?”
- “What’s your favourite local park?”
- “What’s your favourite activity to do as a family?”
- “If you could travel anywhere, where would you want to go?
- “If you could have any superpower, what would you choose and why?”
Two Truths and a Lie
In your introduction, include three interesting facts about yourself: two that are true, and one that you have made up. Then, have your neighbours guess which one is the lie. This game works especially well if you already know your neighbours and want to test just how well you really know each other.
Share a Photo
Share a photo and story about something meaningful to you and encourage everyone else to do the same. Examples might include a pet, your favourite comfort food, the cover of your favourite book, CD, or movie, or a picture from your most memorable vacation.
If you are able to provide support to any residents in your neighbourhood facing barriers (such as lack of transportation or compromised immune systems), this is also a great place to share that information and to see if anyone is in your neighbourhood is in need of support.