Connecting to community
Peer networks are a way for people living with disability to connect to other people living with similar experiences, issues or aspirations. typically, they involve a regular meeting at a community location. In part, peer networks provide an important social connection so that members feel less isolated. Perhaps more importantly, peer networks are a way for their members to access information, get inspired by the stories of their peers, test ideas, and build capacity. Peer networks are organised either by their own members or by a third party agency such as an advocacy agency or demography agency.
Peer networks also work for family members.
Go to peerconnect.org.au for more information about peer networks in Australia.
'Third Place' of community life
when thinking about assisting someone to connect into community life, it is worth thinking about where the 'third place' of connection are. This phrase comes from Ray Oldenburg's The Great Good Place (1989, 1991). He writes how are the first place of social connection is the home, and the second place of social connection is the workplace. The third place of social connection covers those places in our community where people assemble at low or no cost. This is places like cafes, clubs, parks, etc. Oldenburg says that these third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place, a sense of belonging.
Many people living with disability, experienced low social contact with the broader community, and are at risk of, or already are, socially isolated.
Therefore, it is important to know about the local community, about where people gather together, about where the third place venues are, because these can be key to assisting the person to build social connections.
It is important that the person is supported to access third place venues on the same basis as other local people. It is no use having a group of people living with disability go to a third-place venue together, and/or at a time when few other people are there, because this does not increase the chances of there being natural social connection with other local people.
Assisting people to build connections and relationships
in the Model of Citizenhood Support, one of the key areas for investment is termed Social Capital. This is all about how to assist the person grow the number of people who are freely in their life (ie people who are not family, not paid to be there, not volunteers, and not just other people living with disability). To build relationships, you first need to have connections to people; if there is no connection, no initial contact, relationships don't emerge.
Deb Rouget's summary about connections and relationships is a good place to start.
The art of asking for someone's help
Assisting people into genuine community connections means that at some point there is a first conversation about how someone might be able to help this happen. This is particularly true if we are seeking to involve someone who is not paid to be there.
Rick Thompson's 2005 paper on The Art of Asking is a good read for thinking about how best to approach people whose assistance we might need.