Recently, after a year of having conversations about community across Halton Region, we had a big celebration where we invited those who had been involved in the process to gather together. The goal was to share and celebrate the ideas and the stories from all these conversations.
Following a presentation given by Tamarack's Derek Alton, outlining the themes from all the local conversations, there were several small group discussions where people reflected on what was shared. Here are some of the highlights:
- One attendee shared that it is our ability to be introspective that allows us to connect. A sense of self-identity allows us to connect as a group. It is the spaces in between the individual and the community where relationships form and a sense of belonging is felt.
- Another person shared that wearing many hats separates us because it causes us to compartmentalize our lives.
- One of the things that was shared in the presentation by Derek was the power of storytelling to help bring people together and build a common identity. He referenced a conversation that was recently held with one of our local senior’s homes where the group talked about the importance of retelling people’s stories to those with dementia to help them maintain their sense of identity. The group realized this is also true of communities. When neighbourhoods have people moving in and out all the time, it is easy for them to lose their sense of identity. It is through telling and retelling neighbourhood stories that they are able to maintain that identity despite all the movement. .
After the presentation, community members went into smaller breakout groups and continued their discussion, using local examples and stories.
- One table discussed the recent ice storm that struck their community around Christmas. People saw this challenging situation allowed everyone to come together to support one another.
- Another person at the same table shared how she had the privilege of being part of the evacuation effort for the storm. She said it was the “first time I and the community has experienced anything like this.” People just came through the doors of the emergency response office wanting to help asking, “Can I provide food?” “Can I provide blankets?” “What can I do to help?” There was an amazing sense of caring and community action.
- She also shared the importance of her and her volunteers needing a space to talk about their experiences afterwards; to be able to process and make sense of it all. It was very exhausting, but the sense of community during that time was unbelievable.
- Another person works for the Halton Hills Library and she shared how they were asked by the city to create a page for people to share their stories and experiences from the ice storm. This continues to be their most popular page on their website, six months later. People love sharing their stories of this deeply impactful event and reading other’s stories.
Often community is formed out of disaster, like in the case of the ice storm. However, the hope is that the rejuvenated sense of community is not defined by the disaster. The group talked about how it is not the disaster that builds community but how they respond and the sense of community this creates.
- One person then shared the following story: “I came out of a community where there was a murder. The stories we tell now are focused in on the murder, not on the relationships that formed or how we came together as a community in response to this murder to deal with it. We need to challenge ourselves as a community to talk about the benefits that can come in challenging times and not just the negative stuff.”
- One person shared the story of the creation of pop-up gardens in Acton. People were hesitant to create these gardens, afraid that vandals would sabotage them. It is ok to take a risk and put the garden in a more visible place where it could be more susceptible to vandalism. That could be hurtful, but they saw this experience as way to grow as a community. The gardens have been a big success and something the community is proud of. Sometimes creating a deeper sense of community involves an element of risk. This story shows the benefits that came when taking the risk together.
Why aren’t people getting together more often?
- One person shared that they think part of it is they don’t know what they don’t have. One example of this that was shared was how during 9-11 many of the planes were sent to Gander Newfoundland. When people got off the plane, they were given food and a place to eat. People were amazed by outpouring of support and community and hospitality. One old guy responded, “What else would you do[but give food and a place to stay for those in need]?” It is amazing that people have grown up in a society where that is not the norm; it is not what is expected. It is almost as if there is no crisis because they don’t know the other side; they don’t know what they are missing.
- Derek shared about how storytelling can be an emotional experience for people that inspires them and drives them to act. But one person in our group pushed back saying that storytelling is not just about an emotional connection. There is a lot of thought that goes into it. t should not be separate. It's not just what you experience but what is the meaning of this: how does it connect to the world around you and to others stories? Storytelling, therefore, is a sense-making exercise. Storytelling is also a tool for disruption of old narratives and the creation of something new.