Forum in North Van to address social isolation and loneliness

Beyond the Conversation encourages community to take action

Addressing social isolation can’t be tackled alone – it requires the response of a community.

That’s the message Beyond the Conversation, a group that aims to address the specters of loneliness and social isolation by helping communities set up spaces for inclusion and conversation, is putting out there in the leadup to its event this Saturday in North Vancouver.

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“For this, it really starts with us coming together and identifying the issue of social isolation and loneliness,” says Amie Peacock, who founded Beyond the Conversation in 2015 in an effort to build bridges between seniors, immigrants, refugees and youth who might be disproportionately affected by feelings of loneliness and isolation.

“There’s always that desire of hearing that story of people, because I find it fascinating,” says Peacock, who also acts as the volunteer-led organization’s executive director.

Beyond the Conversation is currently hosting a series of forums in different neighbourhoods throughout Metro Vancouver called Re-imagining Social Connectedness, featuring guest speakers and a call to action for local communities to help create more resilient social spaces.

The first of these forums is being held at North Vancouver City Library from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 12.

“On Jan. 12 what people can look forward to is learning about some skills on how to recognize people in their neighbourhood that maybe are feeling isolated or lonely, or experiencing loneliness,” says Peacock.

On the speakers’ docket, in addition to Peacock, is Neil Parker, who does entertainment and logistics with Beyond the Conversation, and Eddy Elmer, a PhD candidate in the field of social gerontology, or the social aspect of growing old, who will be talking about aging, loneliness and mental health.

The ultimate goal of the Re-imagining Social Connectedness forum, besides opening up the conversation, is to encourage local individuals, groups or organizations to take the reins and start their own groups dedicated to combating social isolation.

To date, Beyond the Conversation has launched 12 small groups across Vancouver that regularly meet and endeavour to foster a sense of belonging.

The organization is hoping to open 100 new locations and meetups across the region, says Peacock.

“We are always an organization that believes in empowering the community. We would love to start more groups on the North Shore, but the idea of this is really that it would be coming from the community and then we’d look at supporting, or we can initiate starting a group in the community and then encourage and invite the community to take part in it and run it the way they see fit,” says Peacock.

Peacock recounts moving from the Philippines to Canada almost 29 years ago. She was nervous, but Peacock’s sister was already living in Canada and helped her establish connections in her new home.

“Now I think about the people who didn’t have that opportunity and they had to start all over again,” says Peacock, adding that when she started the organization in 2015 the main focus was on seniors, before expanding to emphasize the way that loneliness and isolation can also affect overburdened young people, as well as new immigrants and refugees.

“People don’t talk to each other anymore,” she says, when asked why loneliness and social isolation have cropped up as major issues in recent years.

“You notice this on the street, and sometimes I’m guilty of this too. I’m more focused on checking my email and who texted me then saying hi to a person I just passed by or the person I’m sitting next to at the bus stop.”

But she has been endeavouring to change all that. “Let’s do this together.”

Those interested in combating social isolation and loneliness are encouraged to register for Saturday’s forum at North Vancouver City Library by visiting nvcl.ca/calendar and searching for the event.

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