Which, in a way, is a good thing, not only because it helps keep the virus from spreading. But also because we have been given this opportunity to connect (or re-connect) with our local communities. Long before the pandemic hit our shores, many of us hardly ever spent time in our neighbourhoods, and we didn't really know the people who lived around us as well. A study published last year and reported in the Canberra Times revealed that only 4% of Canberrans actually socialised with their neighbours. Thanks to the busy-ness of life, many Canberrans were never at home during the day, with both parents/carers working and their children at childcare or school. And even on the weekends, many Canberrans would go out and about outside their neighbourhoods.
Thanks to coronavirus, life has changed and turned upside down. And Canberrans are now living out their lives within the confines of their local communities. But that isn't a bad thing. This is not only our big chance of beating the virus and flattening the curve, as they say, but also of connecting with and learning to appreciate the places where we live.
Here are six ways of connecting with your neighbourhood.
1. Go for walks/bike rides in your neighbourhood. I know it's tempting to head outside the borders of your neighbourhood on these glorious autumn days and soak up the sunshine elsewhere. We live in the Bush Capital, after all, and there are so many parks, nature reserves, forests, hills and mountains that we can socially distance ourselves from everybody else. However, just earlier this month (April), about 500 Canberrans headed outside of their neighbourhoods and descended on Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in spite of the social distancing rules, forcing the closure of the reserve. Tidbinbilla is a gorgeous spot for walks, and many of Canberra's nature spaces are too. But your neighbourhood/local area has its own special features, including the fact that you very likely won't be coming across 500 Canberrans during your walks/bike rides! Connect with your local area, and the best way to do that is to be familiar with its streets and special features.
2. Support your local shops. Local shops are the hidden gems of Canberra's suburbs. And they need your patronage, especially during this pandemic. Most of the businesses in our local shops are small businesses. So buy your bread from your local baker's, get your coffee fix from your local café, buy groceries from your local supermarket, and order your take away meals from your local restaurants. These small businesses rely more than anything on their local community to support them.
3. Go on a bear hunt in your neighbourhood. Inspired by the classic 1989 children's picture book We're going on a bear hunt, written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, this worldwide phenomenon has caught on in Canberra and other parts of Australia. People are putting teddy bears and other soft toys in their windows and balconies and hanging them from trees and mailboxes. Why? So that children stuck at home during this lockdown period can 'hunt' for them during their walks with their parents and carers around the neighbourhood. So make sure you place your teddy bears in your windows or balconies for the neighbourhood's kids to spot, then head out yourself and do some bear hunting!
4. Learn about the history of your community. Connect with and learn more about the place you live in. Many of Canberra's suburbs are named after prominent Australians. Who is your suburb named after? The suburb of Lyons, for example, is named after Australia's tenth Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons. And the suburb of Jacka is named after Alfred Jacka, the first Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War for his services during the Gallipoli campaign.
Many Canberra suburbs also have street names that follow a theme. For example, in the suburb of Lyons, the streets are named after locations in Tasmania. And in the suburb of Hackett, the streets are named after scientists.
Also, what are the significant places and landmarks in your neighbourhood? Are there particular native animals and birds that call your neighbourhood home? Are there particular trees that grow there? For example, in my neighbourhood, elm trees line many of our streets.
Joseph Lyons, Australia's 10th Prime Minister. Source:Source: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Aloysius_Lyons.jpg
5. Get to know your neighbours and the people who live around you. Even though it's lockdown, that doesn't mean we can't communicate and connect with the people who live around us. Smiling, waving and saying hello to your neighbours when you see them on the street is a good start. You can also help your elderly neighbours or the mum who is struggling with her kids by offering them your contact details in case they need help with anything, or offering to pick up their groceries from the shops, or offering to get them bread and milk or even toilet paper if there's any left!
A good way to connect with your neighbours is to leave them your contact details. Write your details on cards and pop the cards into their mailboxes. Here are some brilliant neighbour connection and calling cards you can download and print.
If you are all on social media, you could also create a Facebook group as a way of connecting. Several of my neighbours and I did just that. We created a Facebook group as a consequence of the January bushfires and are now using it to stay even more connected during this pandemic.
6. Appreciate the beauty of your local community/neighbourhood.
Choose features of your local area (a particular street, local trees, nearby hill, creek, local shops, local school, bus stops, someone's garden, your house, local birdlife, etc) and represent them in art such as painting, drawing, sketching, or a collage. Write about them in a journal. Take photos of your local area and create a photobook. Or use an app like Varnist and transform the photos of your neighbourhood into artworks.
In this time of coronavirus, we are spending a lot more of our time in our homes and neighbourhoods. So why not use some of this time to connect with the place where you live? Love thy neighbours and thy neighbour(hood)!
Increasingly Weekend Notes is adding generic file photos in the articles rather than local area photos. As most the articles are about supporting local businesses, appreciating local parks and engaging in local activities (like a neighbourhood bear hunt), then local photos taken within Canberra would make the articles more meaningful, inspirational and provoke some sense of local connection.