In response to the recent health pandemic, Coastline Housing colleagues phoned over 1000 customers, between March and the end of July, to check on their wellbeing and during these calls. We were amazed by the variety of ways people were occupying their time.
On the surface, it seemed that people were simply revisiting or finding new interests and hobbies to pass the time. However, colleagues were inspired to hear how people were using these activities to manage anxiety and social isolation. Many people openly shared that lockdown was having a negative impact upon their mental health but that their interests were improving their wellbeing. We identified that some of our customers had similar interests and thought it would be beneficial if they could connect and provide peer-to-peer support.
Chiming with the national sense of increased community cohesion, we developed the initiative Click & Connect: a space for people to share interests, have conversations, and celebrate strengths and resilience at a time of such great isolation and uncertainty. The name Click & Connect played on the increased need for accessing support digitally, such as online shopping, but rather than food, people could seek out social support. As the project was set up in response to the crisis, it was hosted on our existing community Facebook group: Coastline Communities. Colleagues then encouraged and supported customers we had been talking to in the welfare calls to post photos, videos and information about their interests to share with and inspire others. Colleagues got involved and posted too, including a Tik Tok dance video from our CEO! We were really pleased that this grabbed the attention of our customers and they soon began posting independently of the phone calls, and commenting on each other’s interests, often with community members they had not met before, therefore really connecting communities at a time of need.
As highlighted in the HAPPI4 inquiry report (opens new window) on the rural housing needs of older people, social isolation is a feature of rural life in Cornwall, and the ability to connect diverse communities in this way was powerful in addressing this. The project provided reassurance for people living on their own, such as for one customer who said: “I hate being on my own, so I look forward to looking at the messages.” Importantly, existing relationships were strengthened, and new means of communicating were formed, such as our Board members interacting with customers’ posts. Wide ranging interests were also shared, from nature and arts and crafts, to model railways and people’s pets. Here are some Click & Connect contributions from customers and colleagues:
We shared our learning through networking with other community development professionals and Housing Association colleagues in the South West. One conversation to stem from this led to a community group setting up Click & Connect North Bristol. Other Housing Associations and community organisations have shared that they are developing their own similar initiatives to meet their customer’s needs.
Looking ahead, we plan to build on customer feedback that the initiative will have continued relevance in the future. We aspire to create a themed digital library of the customers’ interests to enable ongoing community peer-to-peer learning. In addition to the Coastline Communities Facebook group, and to further build on the benefits of increased communication between customers, colleagues, our Executive Team, and the Board, we with have developed a new digital platform called the Coastline Conversation. This has membership from all levels of Coastline, enabling brief interactions and exchanges, which complement our more formal processes, such as the Customer Voice reporting to Board.
Using a digital approach continues to be important, and equally, we are considering how to address digital exclusion issues to ensure all of our communities can access the project. Ultimately, we hope to facilitate events and activities based on customers’ interests so that we can meet in person and benefit from the human connection that has been established digitally.
For more information, or to share ideas about community connections, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.