Community minded: Frankston North project combats loneliness during lockdown

Gillian (left) and Ruby (right). Photo credit: Big hART

An art workshop by Big hART funded through a Victorian Government grant has connected generations in meaningful and lasting ways.

For those who struggled with loneliness and isolation during the pandemic, connecting with others online or in-the-flesh via an arts project proved to be the best medicine.

That was certainly the case for those participating in Connecting Lines, a Big hART Project that brought together socially-isolated Frankston North residents young and old.

The project was made possible by a $48,590 payment from the Let’s Stay Connected Fund – a Victorian Government initiative which provided grants of between $5,000 and $200,000 to support innovative, community-led initiatives that built connection during the pandemic.

Big hART saw a gap and successfully applied.

“Towards the end of lockdown in 2020,” recalls Big hART producer Natalie O’Donnell, “a lot of our young people were feeling socially disconnected. We also recognised that senior members of the Frankston North community were particularly vulnerable to the impacts of isolation.”

Counteracting that, Natalie and the team used Connecting Lines to build stronger inter-generational bonds via online and in-house art workshops (drawings, writing, music, film).

Q&A: Natalie O’Donnell, Big hART producer

How does the Connecting Lines grant bring together vulnerable youth and seniors?

Ruby standing sideways infront of her artwork“The arts are a hugely powerful vehicle. We initially introduced the young and senior participants to each other through the sharing of written words, drawings and reflection. This broke down misconceptions. We then looked to bring everyone together across visual art, film and sound. Sitting and conversing in these creative spaces has allowed for impactful generational exchange and understanding.

Big wins from this project?

Bonds forming between younger and senior participants outside our workshops. We’ve had some of the young people share how they bumped into and chatted with senior participants at the park or shops. Our senior participants have also shared how they have felt valued in a way that they haven’t experienced for a long time. We’ve seen how, as familiarity builds, the young people are naturally looking to the seniors as mentors, and there’s an increased capacity for each generation to be community advocates for the other.

How are these workshops changing lives?

For many, the confidence, and skills they’ve built in workshops has correlated with an increased confidence and re-engagement with their education, seeing them travel onto vocational pathways that they otherwise may not have, and break through barriers self-imposed or otherwise. They’ve found their voices. The aim of our long-term approach to working in, and with communities, is to ensure that these positive shifts run deep and resonate for generations to come.

What are the life circumstances of the people who have been able to access this project?

Frankston North’s a vibrant, warm community which acknowledges its challenges; particularly in regard to barriers faced by many through low socio-economics. These circumstances can increase in complexity when the community itself becomes labelled in negative ways. In our work, it’s important to acknowledge these complexities but we risk undermining people’s right to thrive when this becomes how they’re defined. Our projects focus on the strengths that each individual and community bring to the projects we work on together.

How is this project unusual?

There aren’t many programs that focus on bringing teenagers and seniors together. We can’t be surprised that there’s a generational divide if, as a community, we aren’t actively finding ways to support our youth and seniors to connect. What we’ve seen through Connecting Lines is the reciprocal exchange of learning, of sharing, of empathy and importantly, a breaking down of misconceptions between youth and the elderly which can often prove the barrier to their connection.

Connecting Lines workshop vox pop

Artwork by Gillian. Painting of a hawk flying infront of a yellow background. Black lines circle aroun the bird.“I get to connect with younger people and in turn it helps me to relate to a different generation than mine.” Janet, senior participant.

“I think it’s important for young people to connect with the senior women in the community because we can learn more about them. We can learn from their generations.” Ceena, youth participant.

“It’s been an absolutely wonderful project. What I’ve learned is how truly deep and thoughtful the young people are. The writing they’ve done have been absolutely beautiful; really thoughtful and responsive.” Gillian, senior participant.