What do high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, lack of trust, increased stress hormones, and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease have in common? They can all be caused by loneliness.
A sense of place is essential, particularly to those who have no place. This can occur physically through homelessness but also figuratively through a lack of identity and belonging.
Places where people can gather for informal conversation are so important. Lonely people are often urged to take a class or join a group to meet new people, but generally, these experiences come at a financial cost. Even if money is not a barrier, it’s not easy to jump into something new from a place of isolation.
Neighbourhood houses aim to build social support, well-being and resilience and this is true of the programs at West Footscray Neighbourhood House, which aim to bring people together and decrease isolation.
On Thursdays, our little foyer above the West Footscray Library buzzes with conversation as our Soul House program draws local people in for a chat, some food and a coffee. We offer the hospitality, but it’s our neighbours who bring their stories, often making new connections and finding their place in the process.
This sense of place allows people a strong base from which to branch out further into the community. The Indian, Nepalese, and Bangladeshi Family Social Group for instance, brings mums and their young children into our centre, but rather than insulate the mums, invites participation in to other community programs. Many now access our childcare room and toy library; they create links with Maternal and Child Health Services, parenting services and other relevant organisations; and of course many are part of the West Footscray Festival of Colours.
As an organisation and as good neighbours, we will continue to establish and champion informal, age-friendly, people-friendly spaces that connect us and build a vital sense of place.