A more socially connected Latrobe community.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the way people in Latrobe connect with and support each other. For some, feelings of loneliness and isolation are already familiar, and the ongoing health effects of COVID-19 physical distancing measures may not yet be fully realised. Unfortunately, those people experiencing loneliness and isolation before COVID-19, are feeling even more disconnected. They have been separated from friendships and community services that they depend on for their health. What had previously been a face to face to conversation with a mental health support worker is now a text message and what used to be time with a friend is now time apart.

For others, being separated from friends, family and community settings is a new experience and it has been hard to adjust. Technology has been a necessary part of the solution and the gaps in who can access and confidently use technology are now visible.

There are concerns for people who don’t have the skills or technology to connect with others. Libraries and other community settings offer social connection, access to technology and resources that some people depend on for their health.

Local services have observed that some people don’t have technology or the ability to link to technology and they are really feeling it.

A local Lions Club is struggling to stay connected with only 3 out of 13 people that own a computer. They have said this makes it difficult to communicate as a group and fear that what they are experiencing may be happening with many other community groups. They believe the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to reconnect.

There is now an opportunity to better understand the network of human connections that exist in Latrobe and to find new and creative ways for people to stay connected and support each other socially.

It has been hard for some people to accept physical distancing measures. They have struggled with not knowing when they can reconnect with family, play a game of golf, have a yarn or give someone a hug. They miss seeing people in their community. They are looking to the government for a way out and want a sense of the future ahead.

People have talked about the importance of connecting with other humans. They have said that not being able to hug their family is killing them. A single parent has found that when their children are not around, they can feel very lonely and detached.

Many community groups and organisations have quickly changed the ways they engage with communities, reaching out to their participants and networks via telephone calls and online platforms. However, some organisations have expressed concern about the impact on volunteers. Volunteer meetings and activities have been cancelled which is creating a distance between volunteers and organisations. Staff need to work differently to keep volunteers engaged.

For LGBTIQ communities, who would often rely on local events and gatherings to prevent the impacts of feeling marginalised or detached from society, COVID-19 has meant that they are not able to get out to have fun and celebrate with each other as they usually would.

People living with disabilities have said that some of their peers understand what’s happening and some don’t. There is a reliance on social supports to translate complex information and provide access to technology.

Some older people have said that they are starting to feel institutionalised. They are seeking permission from their families more often than they used to, resulting in a lack of confidence and feelings of a loss of control and independence. There is increased demand for home care services.

Some people have enjoyed learning about how to use technologies and the creative ways group activities, family and community gatherings are now occurring online.

Latrobe communities have consistently shared their aspirations to stay connected and to help others who may be experiencing isolation or loneliness, particularly during the time of COVID-19.