Hey Neighbour!

Hey Neighbour! Is a resident-led initiative within the City of Vancouver, which is aimed at increasing social connectedness, neighbourliness, and resilience in multi-unit buildings. This is achieved by encouraging residents to get to know each other through activities organized by resident animators (RA). The program highlights the impact that increased sociability can have on the mental and physical health of the residents, and the role that municipalities, residents, and the housing industry can play in cultivating these connections. RA’s initiate events like board-game nights, potlucks, walking clubs, emergency preparedness workshops, skill shares, and more to bring neighbours together. Hey Neighbour has since morphed into a Community of Practice/collective of organizations interested in learning about how to establish more sociability in multi-family buildings and is housed at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Climate-related impacts to mental health and wellbeing are well-documented, with eco-grief and anxiety increasing in prevalence and severity. Social isolation and feeling disconnected from the surrounding social environment can be exacerbated both by climatic impacts, but also by building and community design. Enhanced social connectedness not only improves mental health, it can help in improving disaster preparedness at the community level. Hey Neighbour seeks to increase social connections in rental multi-unit buildings: the “Hey Neighbour” pilot. The approach involved resident animators (RAs) to engage other residents in the building and explore ways they can enlist their socio-cultural assets to help foster neighbourliness. Intergenerational residents paired up in each building, and received support from the project coordinator. Other key actors involved in the pilot project aside from the project team include residents, and property management staff.

Identifying Actions

The Hey Neighbour pilot attempted to put leadership by residents at the centre of the project. In doing so, there were several methodologies and tools that were used:

  • Asset-Based Community Development + Appreciative Inquiry: A framework of communication support where the Coordinator worked with RAs and Management to flush out problems through exploring possibilities, while viewing “failures” as learning opportunities that informed the next RA-led activity.
  • Relational Approaches: Refers to the focus on relationships. Neighbours share more than just a relationship defined by proximity. What neighbours do and how neighbours act affect each other day to-day. Hence, intentional efforts were made to explore ways that resilience can be built relationally (“Relational Resilience.”)
  • Capacity-Building: RAs were invited to a 2-hour “Facilitation 101” workshop taught by PeerNetBC. The following topics and strategies were covered during the workshop, which was aimed at supporting RAs in engaging with neighbours in their buildings.
  • Reducing financial barriers to leadership: Community-building takes time, and the role of a first-time RA was a big ask in terms of time commitment. In recognition of this, a monthly honorarium of $200 was provided to each RA, in addition to a small expense budget to support events and activities.

Implementation

The Resident Animators (RAs) are fundamental to planning and implementing community events that foster social connectedness. Two to three residents are recruited to act as RAs to provide the initial leadership and excitement to get neighbour initiatives going. They receive a monthly honorarium in recognition of their efforts, and have access to an annual budget to help cover expenses to events and supplies. These RAs can initiate events like board-game nights, potlucks, walking clubs, emergency preparedness workshops, skill shares, and other activities that bring neighbours together. Property managers act as a close liaison for the RAs, assisting if they need access to an amenity room, leveraging their buying power to purchase supplies, having periodic check-ins, but largely allowing the residents to lead the charge. Implementation of the Hey Neighbour! Pilot project involved a series of events and activities aimed at improving social connectedness including an Easter egg hunt, Hey Neighbour Chat geared at developing local programs/activities, emergency preparedness workshop, municipal election voter registration, tenant appreciation day, board games day, outdoor movie nights, mochi making class, and other events that helped in increasing neighbourliness.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

General project learnings that emerged as part of this project involved lessons regarding communications (e.g., need for multi-lingual residents and the role of passive animation), partnerships (e.g., need for diversity, collaboration, and trust), engagement (e.g., soliciting clear requests for help can create opportunities for further involvement and the role of creating a safe space to participate), emergency preparedness (emergency preparedness is a topic of concern for residents, existing resources are not widely known, and seniors isolation is a growing concern).

Overall, it was determined that the Hey Neighbour! Program could help in fostering community resilience through enhanced neighbourhood connection and education and awareness raising (e.g., emergency preparedness tools and resources). The results of the program were measured through a participant survey (results pending) as well as a more formative evaluation in which the results will be presented in a research report (forthcoming). A formative evaluation has allowed for the evaluation of social policy innovation during all the stages of program development such that lessons could be captured throughout the process for replication in other cities and communities. Additional outcomes of this pilot project include, the establishment of the Hey Neighbour Collective (housed at SFU), property management companies hiring social sustainability coordinators, and continuing research on both programmatic and design solutions to improve sociability of multi-family buildings. Further, several more pilot projects, similar to this have taken place (outside of Vancouver’s jurisdiction).

Next Steps

The Hey Neighbour pilot was initiated by the City of Vancouver as a learning enterprise, to add knowledge to the field around what may support connections in multi-unit buildings. It was not intended to be run by the City as an ongoing program, and so part of the project wrap-up has included considering options for transitioning the leadership and learning of the initiative. Hey Neighbour has since morphed into a Community of Practice/collective of organizations interested in learning about how to establish more sociability in multi-family buildings and is housed at Simon Fraser University (SFU). Hey Neighbour Collective (HNC) is a systems change project that brings together housing providers, researchers, local and regional governments, housing associations and health authorities to experiment with and learn about ways of effectively building community, social connectedness and resilience in BC’s fast-growing vertical communities. The new partnership has applied for various streams of grant funding as the HNC. The practice partners have each been developing pilots over 2017/2018 to test ideas around building neighbourliness and connection within multi-unit buildings; the HNC will bring these separate pilots together to draw on learnings from these early iterations and to expand the field of inquiry into 2019 and beyond. In addition, the collective will also more explicitly introduce climate resilience work within multi-unit building communities. A large number of organizations and projects have expressed their support for the development of the Hey Neighbour Collective over the next 3 years and beyond.