The rise of the digital age means we are less socially connected than ever before.
Being socially connected is about building personal relationships with others, the bonds we forge and the rapports we establish. We know there are many benefits if we have strong connections including better physical and mental health.
The beginnings of Befriend
It’s a subject close to Nick Maisey’s heart. Nick trained as an occupational therapist at Curtin University and now heads up Befriend which is an initiative to create inclusive connected communities.
Befriend is now in its tenth year. A chance email exchange with a young man who was struggling to establish friends because of a disability prompted Nick to reach out. He was a final year student at Curtin University.
“Tim spoke to me about the prejudices and the barriers he had encountered. His loneliness resonated with me, that sense of belonging which he desperately wanted. It prompted me to act,” Nick explains.
Nick saw a real need for social opportunities inclusive to all. He wanted people to forge connections and enjoy meaningful conversations in a welcoming, non-judgemental environment.
12,000 people have connected through Befriend.
“We act as a community-led network for people in Perth so we can create and engage in experiences which build friendships.”
It’s unique because it nurtures inclusion at a grass roots level. This is done through social experiences created by local people, which are welcoming of all.Nick Maisey
Occupational Therapist & founder of Befriend
Building inclusive connections
Nick acknowledges that members come from all walks of life, such as someone who’s recently arrived in Perth. It could also be a retiree looking for more connections or someone who has a disability and is keen to make new friendships.
“People in the network are hosting social activities from workshops such as learning the ukulele to hula-hooping sessions and community cooking.
“These experiences run by local residents make neighbourhoods a more welcoming, connected place,” he adds.
The gatherings are generally small in numbers and informal, so it’s easier to get to know others. With 250 activities every month, ‘Befriend is seeing more residents becoming involved to lead change in their local neighbourhoods.
“We value the contribution that everyone makes. ‘Befriend’ embraces cross-cultural and cross-community relationships such as a person with a disability organising an event or a group completing a neighbourhood development project.”
The organisation is now going through a period of growth. Nick says that Befriend wants to further strengthen partnerships with government, community organisations, businesses and residents. These groups have a commitment to growing connected communities.
“Befriend now employs Community Builders so we can support residents to lead the change in local areas. This includes building referral pathways with community organisations so people aren’t at risk from experiencing social isolation.”
“Supporting the development of friendships and relationships is complex. We want to develop and share our insights so we can contribute towards an inclusive connected society.”