26 September 2023

Reconnected: A community builder’s handbook

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Andrew Leigh & Nick Terrell, La Trobe University Press, $32.99.

‘We’re all in this together’ is an anthem that not only has a special meaning in 2020, but it also resonates throughout Reconnected. What we need to do is imagine our ideal community, but there’s a core concept – social capital – that we should understand.

Leigh & Terrell look at how Australia has become more disconnected – and how together we can turn it around.

“Living in a more connected way isn’t just pleasurable, it enables us to tackle larger challenges. Problems such as climate change, inequality, inactivity and loneliness threaten our future. Solving them will require collective action. In all of human history, there’s few instances in which a crisis was resolved by one person acting alone. The missing pieces of Australia’s community-building puzzle are hiding in plain sight…”

Australians are becoming less inclined to join collective pursuits, with social cohesion suffering as people turn away from churches, unions and volunteer organisations.

Strong social connections make communities more resilient. However, Australians have fewer close friends and local connections today than in the past. More of us say we have no one to turn to in tough times. How can we turn this trend around?

In the words of Helen Keller: “walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light”.

Leigh is the Federal Member for Fenner in the ACT and Terrell is an adviser to Mr Leigh. They look at some of the most successful community organisations and initiatives – from conversation groups to community gardens, from parkrun to Pub Choir – to discover what really works.

The authors explore ways to encourage philanthropy and volunteering, describe how technology can be used effectively and introduce us to remarkable and inspirational leaders. Also considered are how large-scale emergencies boost social capital, and how recent crises have shown Australians are ready to help their neighbours.

Reconnected is an important guide for anyone interested in strengthening social ties.

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