We are a non-profit social enterprise based in Perth, Western Australia who exist for one single purpose; to foster inclusive, welcoming communities. We love to work in partnership with like-minded organisations and people who share our mission, and work together to change the way people think about community and their roles within it.
In 2017, we were given the opportunity to spark a partnership project with the City of Kwinana and Dept Communities (Disability Services), targeting the broader Kwinana community, with an emphasis on residents at risk of social isolation/exclusion. We were invited to bring the Befriend Social Network to the City of Kwinana, empowering local residents to contribute their skills and gifts to their local community, share what’s important to them with others and create welcoming social spaces in which everyone can participate.
Here’s what happened.
A partnership project between the City of Kwinana and the Disability Services Commission began in February of 2017. The programme was funded for one year with an intentional, strategic focus to find, engage and activate local residents to make Kwinana a more welcoming, inclusive and connected place. On a micro level, this would look like small, ‘every day’ social gatherings, led by the Kwinana community. On a macro level, however, this network development project would begin to change the dialogue around inclusion and increase the whole-community effort to enable connection to flourish for everyone, particularly for residents who may be more vulnerable to loneliness than others.
Human beings are social creatures with an innate need to belong. But establishing and maintaining new, meaningful relationships can be challenging and many of us can find ourselves feeling isolated and lonely. There are lots of circumstances that can disrupt our social circles unexpectedly; we move to new countries or cities in search of new opportunities, we end long-term relationships, we change careers or have big things evolve in our lives that create the need to form new connections. For some of us, cultivating new relationships can be particularly tricky due to our diverse abilities, experiences with mental ill-health, social anxiety or a multitude of other factors that result in increased isolation.
Loneliness in our communities is having a devastating effect on our collective health and wellbeing, both physical and mental. Studies are now discovering that our level of social integration (the frequency with which we interact with various people in our lives; saying hello to our neighbours, having a brief discussion with the barista who makes your coffee, engaging in a polite chat with the person who delivers your post, having dinner with some friends, etc.) is the biggest determining factor of how long we are likely to live. It is this pivotal aspect of our health that impacts us far greater than obesity, diet, whether or not we smoke, how clean the air is that we breathe and the frequency with which we exercise.
Befriend’s existence is built on the understanding that the size, strength and quality of one’s social circle can significantly help individuals to discover more about themselves, explore how they relate to others and find new ways to contribute.
The Befriend Social Network
The Befriend Social Network has been strategically designed as an easy-access opportunity for local residents to be their own catalysts for change, creating community-owned welcoming spaces for any adult in Perth to participate in a shared social experience.
The project required someone ‘on the ground’ who was passionate about connection, the community and social inclusion. This person would need to be both a do-er and a thinker, a listener and a collaborator and be that perfect, unique blend of being equal parts analytical and creative. Thankfully, Befriend met local Kwinana resident Jodie Papiccio, who took on the role of ‘Community Builder’ in the local area.
Jodie’s primary role was to encourage, support and activate local residents to build a grassroots movement of togetherness through social participation and develop several relationships with community partners who could serve as a referral pathway into the network. Jodie was encouraged and supported to use her gifts of hospitality (and scone-making), and her local networks through the school, sporting, family and local government networks to find, engage and activate other local residents who shared her passion for making Kwinana a more welcoming, connected place.
Two years later, we met Inger Ward; another local resident who shared Jodie’s passion for community, connection, and contribution. Inger began her Befriend journey as a Host within the Kwinana Social Network and was quite the social butterfly! When an opportunity came up for Befriend to expand our work in the local area, in stepped Inger, armed with her ukulele and her strengths in story-telling, to support the continued flourishing of community-building activities.
Over the next three years, Jodie and Inger have supported their fellow neighbours and residents to develop the confidence, skills and tools to start up and run their own social/interest groups and clubs, connected together as a local inclusive social network.
After the initial grant ended with DSC (February 2017 to January 2018), the City of Kwinana stepped in as a funding partner for the following 6 months, having witnessed for themselves the impact and success of the project within the community. Shortly after that, the Department of Communities supported our work as part of their Empowering Communities programme. This abundant strategic support has enabled The Befriend Social Network to continue its growth in Kwinana over the course of four years, reaching an estimated 9,000 local residents who between them have spent more than 3,000 hours connecting with one another through fun, participatory and inclusive activities. Jodie and Inger have been supporting the growing strength of the community with the help of talented volunteer community champions who have developed a number of valuable roles within the project, including co-Hosts, skill-sharers, promoters, newsletter-creators, social inclusion ambassadors and social media whizzes.
It’s become almost impossible to track, but by our estimations, there’s been over 8,000 community gatherings since the project’s inception, ranging from social sewing to coffee catch-ups, to ukulele practice, to board game nights! Community members report that they feel a greater confidence in connecting with people, feel a great sense of belonging in their local community, and have more opportunities to sweeten their social life.
Over 60 local residents have laced up their Hosting bonnets and proudly step into the role of regularly initiating welcoming social groups, both online and in-person. As a community, they showed enormous resilience during the 2020 pandemic lockdown, hosting fun digital gatherings over Zoom to stay connected and continue sharing social experiences with their groups. Without Hosts being brave enough to take that leap of faith, leading the way and putting the invitation out there, the network simply wouldn’t exist. We’re just the support act.
The project is supported by an effective partnership network, with over 25 Kwinana-based organisations acting as referral partners.
Ultimately, what we’ve seen over the course of 4 years is an evolution of the community, led by the very people living and playing in it. Community Builder and local resident Jodie says “I don’t really have any one favourite moment from this whole process, rather a series of moments that lift my heart. They seem to happen most often when I attend an event and see people who otherwise might never have met, I see them engaged in conversation, sharing a laugh or helping each other”.
If you’re looking for a partner for a place-based community development project, then reach out to Iain for a chat on or learn more about how we do what we do, just here. We’d be happy to explore our shared purpose with you!