Virtual connections the gains, the losses and what we have learned during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Justine FawcettUncategorized

As with most community-based organisations Connecting Community for Kids (CCK)  had to reassess our community engagement activities during the pandemic, and look at how we could modify them to keep the community engaged and supported in this strange new existence we found ourselves in. This was done through a variety of ways including developing a new website support section which had information and resources, online meetings and chats, developing activity and craft packs and more.

We have learned so much about how our community connects through this crisis that will inform us on how we can continue to evolve and grow our community support now and into the future.

Gains – We’ve had great fun and deepened our connection with our community champions who we regularly meet with via zoom.  Our celebrating culture team have started meeting weekly instead of monthly and have increased their connections on a more personal level by running activities such as online cooking classes open to the community, especially great for mums with kids at home.

Our community mothers would normally meet as a group monthly for 3 hours of reflective practice. Now we have 4 meetings scheduled each month and have added an informal catch up involving quizzes etc for them to deepen their connections with each other. The take up rate of these meetings continues to grow, and the group has really bonded over this time.

We also had members of the community join some of our chats. For example, during one of our ‘knit and natter’ sessions a lady joined us who was isolated at home as she was recovering from breast cancer and in the ‘high risk’ category. Her Husband was working away, and she was quite socially isolated so really enjoyed joining us.

We have continued to strengthen bonds with service providers across the local community, working collaboratively to put together free activity packs for children.

Separate Facebook groups were set up for our kids in nature and kids go wild events to provide nature inspired craft ideas and backyard adventures for kids at home. We also encouraged parents to share their own ideas.

Weekly yoga classes were well received and received high levels of engagement from the community. These gave parents at home activities to do with their children whist in isolation.

We delivered craft packs to the Ngala Yorga Waagkan (Aboriginal Women’s Group) in Media. These were distributed to Aboriginal women across the community to keep them busy, connected and entertained during these hard times.

Losses – We know that many people are feeling considerable anxiety and strain over this period. CCK’s priority is to support people who are feeling isolated so to be in a situation where we can’t go into the community to engage with them has been truly difficult. Our community members who attend events and activities, but were not aligned to any particular action team or working groups, have not engaged virtually. We have tried to engage new mums as we know they will be feeling especially isolated but virtual connection has had limited take-up even though our community has told us how much the virtual chats would support families take up remains low. We have had virtual dad’s nights and again can’t really get many to attend yet our Dads groups have a great take up rate doing activities with kids in the community.

What we have learned – relationships are everything and, in our community, we make them first through face to face connection. Once we have built the relationship virtual connection is not only OK it is actually really good at deepening that relationship as it allows people with competing demands to attend a night meeting where they maybe couldn’t previously.  It makes meetings easier to attend and it gives us an insight into each other’s lives even if only from the backdrop of a zoom meeting. People are relaxed and we have learned so much more about each other as we don’t have to race off to collect kids or make dinner.

So, what next for CCK – We have always engaged our community through activities and events but I think we have missed opportunities to deepen the engagement for families who come every now and then – did they feel they belonged? How can we do better so if a similar situation ever arises more people stay connected through virtual groups and chats. Let’s continue to work across a face to face and virtual world, let’s ensure we make time to really connect with each other as well as progressing the work we want to do. Let’s have more fun and truly embrace each other even virtually and welcome all points of view and ideas. Let’s stay agile and seek a variety of ways of connecting with new community members whilst growing relationship with our existing members.