One positive upshot of the pandemic has been the stronger bonds many of us have made with our nearest neighbours. Communities have come together to provide support to one another, and it’s given a boost to many who may have otherwise felt isolated.
As part of our promise to create a better way to live, we’re designing our developments to provide opportunities for residents to get to know each other and for communities to grow together and thrive.
The search for a strong community
Post lockdown, we asked what you look for when buying a new home. A quarter of respondents told us that finding a home within a strong community is now more important to them. This increased to a third (33%) of those aged 18 to 35, and 42% for those either expecting a child or with young children under 10. Almost a quarter (23%) agreed that going forward they will make a more concerted effort to get to know their neighbours if they move.
We also sought the views of clinical psychologist Dr Annette Schlösser, a lecturer at The University of Hull, on the psychology of community. Dr Schlösser, who specialises in supporting families and children, believes we can boost our own mental and physical wellbeing by building lasting relationships with our neighbours and others in our wider community.
She says: “When we ask ‘what is community?’, we could argue every family is a small community or perhaps even our extended family or our school, but for many of us it’s our immediate neighbourhood. I think the pandemic has really shown that some neighbourhoods have been transformed into communities rather than simply being a collection of houses.”
The psychology of community
Our desire for belonging and relationships is one of our most basic human needs, secondary only to satisfying the physiological requirements for survival (eg. food, water, warmth, rest) as well as safety and security. Dr Schlösser says: “As humans we are social beings. We have an inherent need to belong, to socialise, to feel connected. But we’re all very different. We have different jobs, different ethnic backgrounds, different cultural values. How to you make sure you belong when all you have in common is that you’ve bought a house in the same area?”
It’s how we all come together that counts.
“Building communities is an interesting thing. Housebuilders can put the infrastructure in, creating the circumstances from which communities can grow, but the actual experience of community needs to come from the people,” explains Dr Schlösser.
“There’s a lot we can learn from our experience of the pandemic. People have been walking more and we’ve all been chatting with so many people and just feel more connected to our neighbours. Nobody is ever upset if you say hello to them, often they will stop for a quick chat.
“Creating opportunities for richness of interaction is key. Providing green spaces, wilder areas of nature, play areas, shops and schools within new communities ensures that different parts of the community regularly overlap. People start to build a routine, where they bump into the same people every day - whether you’re walking the dog or at the playground - and that creates opportunities for small conversations to evolve into longer ones over time.”
While there are so many ways to build thriving communities, we’ve highlighted just six ways to create lasting relationships with our neighbours.
1. Ditch the car
“The more people drive the less well they get to know each other,” says Dr Schlösser. “You close the car door and you’re in your own space and not interacting with anyone. The more we can encourage people to use their own energy for transport – like walking or cycling - the more we slow down and the more likely we’ll bump into each other and start those interactions.”
Redrow developments aim to prioritise the movement of people over cars and provide safe cycling and walking routes.
2. Rewild your life
One of Redrow’s placemaking principles is to provide ‘nature for people’ on our developments by creating rich wildlife habitats and green spaces for residents to enjoy.
“Community allotments and orchards work really well for communities,” says Dr Schlösser. “They can be very peaceful and restorative places to spend time and grow food. For those people who may be facing mental health issues, it can make them feel important and part of a community and provide validation that they belong. It’s so easy if you’re feeling anxious and depressed to sit at home and not go out, but if there’s a reason to go out and participate, there’s a way to thrive.
“Rewilding areas is also a brilliant way to encourage people to spend time in nature – what’s nicer than having a wild path through an area? With more connection to nature comes a greater sense of wellbeing and pride in our community.”
3. Create a community hub
“Places with active residents’ associations tend to find their neighbourhoods are less littered and there is more care for the environment,” says Dr Schlösser. “It also increases a sense of pride and develops a stronger shared sense of community.
“Likewise if there is a central community hub, it can provide regular opportunities to meet up and socialise. Residents in retirement villages where there are communal facilities, for example, tend to live longer. It is great for our physical and mental health to have that social interaction.
“If you can’t have a physical building, think what you can encourage virtually. These are still places to belong and develop a strong sense of community.”
4. Encourage pride in younger generations
Dr Schlösser adds: “Young children have a strong desire to learn and a real concern for their environment and the planet and they are not frightened about articulating it. In fact it’s often older generations who are more hesitant to talk about it. But it’s future generations who will live the legacy of what we do now.
“Neighbourhoods can partner with local schools to teach children about where their food comes from and the life cycle of nature. Even something simple like setting up a communal veggie patch; that’s so enriching for education and developing values for what’s important in our lives.
“It’s a way to instil in our children’s minds to look after their environment, because if we don’t, it won’t look after us. The same principle applies to our neighbours. If we show care for them, they will care about us.”
5. Join a community group or club
Dr Schlösser says: “Joining a social or exercise club isn’t for everyone but for many it can be a great way to meet people. Exercise itself has been shown to have beneficial effects for physical and mental health. A club like ‘Fit Mums’ is a really positive example of women who may struggle with low mood after pregnancy, who come together to run and walk. It’s really uplifting for mental health and they’re with people who understand and are in the same boat.”
6. Build social capital
Social capital is defined as “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively”.
“If you move house and end up in a new environment, you’re building ‘social capital’,” explains Dr Schlösser. Much like it being a great opportunity to know more people – whether that’s at the park, the community orchard or veggie patch, you’re also growing your social capital by meeting more people with different skills. You can then swap skills with each other, which is mutually beneficial. There are schemes people can join to do this, like the TimeBank Hull and East Riding or often neighbours will do this just through making connections.”
For more about how we’re using our placemaking principles to create thriving communities read: www.redrow.co.uk/inspiration/articles/community-spirit-is-at-the-heart-of-everything-we-do