The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on geographic communities, in both positive and negative respects. With people cutting off physical social contact outside their own homes, there is far less face-to-face engagement between members of local communities, leading to severe isolation. Strict lockdown rules have also hindered progress on community projects, as these are often carried out by volunteers or not deemed ‘essential work’, so haven’t been allowed to take place.
However, people have still been coming together in selfless and laudable ways during this difficult time. As soon as the enormity of the situation became clear, informal online support groups appeared within local areas, with neighbours checking in on or going shopping for those in vulnerable groups. ONS’s weekly research in the UK, carried out one month after the nation’s first national lockdown, found that nearly two-thirds of adults had contacted neighbours who might need help at least once in the last week, which was up from slightly over half in the previous week.
The shared experience of the pandemic, therefore, seems to be leading many people to think of others in their area and how they might be helped. As local communities begin to reemerge from the devastation of the past year or so, this sense of looking out for your neighbour needs to continue to build stronger communities and keep vulnerable members of them supported. Community projects are key to this as their benefits to both individuals and the wider area are vast. Below is a list of just a few of the key values of community projects.
Building new relationships
Working together towards a common goal establishes new relationships and builds friendships within communities. Neighbours who may have only communicated through an obligatory “hello” now and again will spend more time together whilst working on a project. This more focused and shared experience develops much stronger bonds than simply exchanging gossip when bumping into one another.
These new relationships formed during community projects will also help build stronger support groups for more vulnerable members of the community.
Promoting racial and cultural diversity
Bringing a range of people together to work on a project, who may be from different cultures or backgrounds, can also tackle issues such as racism and other prejudices. Working with other members of a diverse community can help break down barriers and shatter myths that perpetuate these issues as well as develop friendships between disparate groups.
There are also health benefits that can come to those who volunteer for community projects. One report by the Corporation for National and Community Service discovered that people who volunteer more than 100 hours per year are statistically more likely to enjoy a longer life and experience less incidence of heart disease. This is likely due to the often physical nature of voluntary work.
In addition to improving physical health, community projects can also improve the mental health of volunteers involved in them. Isolation and loneliness are believed to be associated with a range of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and sleep deprivation or deficiency. Community projects help tackle this by bringing people together, developing social bonds, friendships and support networks.
Community pride and ownership
Another great benefit that can be gained from a community project is the sense of ownership volunteers experience over what has been accomplished. Improving their local area in some fashion makes people feel they are helping build and develop it, rather than simply living in it. This, in turn, helps community members feel more responsible and driven to improve their shared surroundings in the future.
The importance of celebrating community projects
Beyond the personal benefits volunteers might gain from community projects, the wider inhabitants of the area can also benefit. Any improvements made to the area through the project will of course make a difference, but there is also added value in hosting launch or completion events that celebrate the end of the activity. These important occasions can promote awareness of any changes made, as well as inspire those not directly involved to consider volunteering for similar projects in the future, after they see the impact such work can make. These events also help in bringing the wider community together in celebration of something positive done within it. This, is turn, develops pride in the area.
The importance of projects in bringing communities together and strengthening them cannot be stressed enough, and in these unusual and difficult times, this is more important than ever.