Oh how things have changed!

Submitted by Norfolk Manor on March 20, 2013 - 11:14am
A community conversation with seniors in Guelph

Today I had the great fortune of spending some time with a great group of people at the Norfolk Manor Retirement Home.  When I first walked into the building I realized it was unlike any retirement home I had ever been to before.  It looked and felt like a house.  The friendly people at the front then directed me up to a lovely group of women who generously donated some of their time to talk about community.

One thing that came out of our discussion was the amazing value of location in helping build a vibrant community.  For example, in the case of Norfolk Manor, it is located downtown, within a short walking distance of the library and downtown coffee shops and stores.  This really brought home that how we design our neighbourhoods helps or hurts our ability to build connection and community.  This was further extrapolated when we talked about the evolution of stores.  All of the woman could remember with great fondness the local corner store.  It was more than just a place to buy goods, it became a local community spot where people could meet and share stories and catch up with each other.  With time this evolved to form strip malls.  There was still a sense of community but it was now divided amongst a number of stores.  The next evolution was to indoor malls.  All the women lamented how they did not feel welcome in these malls, full of busy and bustling young people.  None of the stores they felt spoke to their needs or wants.  The focus was now on shopping and buying, and there is little room for people to come together and form community.  We are now moving away from these indoor malls and instead forming large box store complexes.  Now instead of walking, we drive between stores.  This further disconnects people.  There is no intent or real opportunity to build community in these settings.  How far we have traveled from the local community hub of the general store.

After this I took a quick elevator ride up to the sports room where a couple of guys told tales of their years playing and reffing sports.  We talked about how sports helps build community by bringing people together around a common interest to have fun together and achieve a common goal.  As an avid sports player myself this really resonated with me. 

Often times when we talk about community we make it sound as if it is all sunshine and rainbows.  Both groups however, highlighted that there are challenges in community.  The women talked about how communities often comes with poverty and crime and that a good neighbourhood does not necessarily have no crime or poverty but they do effectively deal with it so it does not become a problem.  The guys talked about how even in a close knit place like Norfolk Manor, there are personality conflicts, and not everyone gets along with each other.  This is a normal part of community, in fact if there is no conflict it means chances are we are suppressing it or not joining closely enough in community.  The trick is learning how to deal with it effectively.  In a place like Norfolk Manor, they talked about how certain groups have different areas at different times and how that helps reduce conflict.

In the end a key part of community is having fun together.  I finished off my visit at Norfolk Manor by joinging the women for a game of euchre, which I lost but had a great deal of fun none-the-less.


Conflict as healthy!

This is great reflection- nice to slow down and visit seniors- what a treat!

I like how you discussed the complexities of community. Community can be messy!

I have found that periodically having conflict in my marriage, can actually be such a life-giving thing to our relationship. We can express things that are challenging and our relationships with each other and knowledge of the other person deepens each time. I think community conflict can function in much the same way. Having conflict that allows people to bring challenges to the surface provides an opportunity to collectively go deeper.

ps. Derek- looks like you need to practice your euchre skills a little more before your next visit!

I am not so sure

Hi Rachel, thank you for being vulnerable and sharing.  I would agree, in my experience conflict (when dealt with using strong communication and opennness) can be very healthy for a relationship, both personal and professional.  

In a community group things are different.  There are many cases of external conflict bringing a group together against a common enemy.  But often with an internal conflict, people just disengage from the group and join another group.  Even in neighbourhoods where they are forced to live together, people just disconnect from their neighbourhood and turtle into their homes.  Dealing with conflict is difficult and in our current individulistic society we are more likely to flee then to deal with it.

How do we change this?

Yes my euchre needs som improvement.  But with all the seniors groups I am visiting, i am getting some good mentorship.