Social Connectivity
in Burnaby

By using photography as a research tool to spark group discussions, newcomers in Burnaby explored how COVID-19 has affected social connection, and the roles community organizations can have to help us feel more connected.

The Burnaby PCN Social Isolation Working Group (SIWG) is conducting community-based research, investigating how to increase social connectivity in Burnaby during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond to guide Burnaby’s mental health strategy.

The research is split into two phases with Phase 1 conducted in English and Phase 2 conducted in Tigrinya, Farsi, and Chinese to reach some of Burnaby’s most isolated individuals. Phase 1, completed in Fall 2021, involved six community members self-identifying as isolated recent newcomers of racialized communities, who shared their experiences in English of social isolation using Photovoice research methodology (a mix of photography and discussions).

The research findings provided insights to the SIWG on how Burnaby community organizations can address barriers to connectivity and how they can build on the opportunities discussed by the community members to ideate innovative and sustainable solutions.

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BACKGROUND

Social isolation can be described as the “disengagement from social ties, institutional connections, or community participation” (BCCDC, 2019) and is a known social determinant of health for many health conditions, including anxiety, depression, addiction, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and premature mortality. 

Social isolation is linked to, but is different, from loneliness; social isolation is the objective separation from other people; whereas loneliness is the subjective distressed feeling of being alone as defined by the National Institute of Ageing.

Social connectivity is the opposite of social isolation; it is a sense of belonging to a group or community and is associated with having personal relationships and engagement with the broader community. 

COVID-19 related restrictions have made social isolation worse for most, however, racialized newcomer communities may be made more vulnerable. Yet with all this knowledge, there is limited data on how community agencies can promote social connectivity!


Below are photos describing some of the recent experiences of social connectivity and social isolation that were experienced by participants.

Recent Experiences of Social Connection

Barriers to Social Connectivity

The community members identified 15 barriers to social connectivity throughout the first phase of the project. They are listed below:

  1. Individual fear of catching COVID-19 (especially for “at risk” groups)
  2. Distance from family and/or core supports
  3. Poor working conditions in relation to COVID-19 protocols
  4. Weather
  5. Competing priorities (e.g. school, work)
  6. Lack of accessibility and transport to social events/places
  7. Feeling uncertain in a new cultural environment
  8. Working or studying from home
  1. Using technology and virtual communication to replace in-person communication
  2. Perceived racism and public fear
  3. Poor mental health and/or lack of motivation
  4. Cost of living
  5. Policies of social distancing, quarantine, etc.
  6. Novelty of pandemic as a new stressor
  7. Previous experiences of trauma

Key findings for community organizations

The community members identified multiple opportunities to increase social connectivity. We have grouped these into four categories below:

RETURN TO IN-PERSON PROGRAMMING
  • In-person programming is more engaging and allows for better verbal and non-verbal communication, supporting stronger community bonds and relationships
  • Technology can be helpful to connect, but it’s overuse can be unhealthy and a barrier for those not online
  • Low barrier opportunities to volunteer with organisations are needed
  • Physical safety necessary during the pandemic can be promoted via small group settings, outdoors, mandatory masking, and use of vaccine passports
  • Public social distancing barriers can make people feel uncomfortable and do not necessarily promote feelings of safety
  • Funding assistance for transportation to in-person programs would be valuable
OFFER INNOVATIVE PROGRAM IDEAS
  • Examples of easy to access, age- appropriate, low commitment and semi- structured programs ideas include: 
    • Cultural events celebrating diversity
    • Events centering around hobbies, including talent shows, movie nights, barbecues, indoor and outdoor exercise groups
    • Informal group sessions to connect with other newcomers
  • Sessions to help newcomers create a roadmap to access basic services, e.g., public transportation and banking
  • Programming should be continuous throughout the year to support those who experience more sadness/ isolation during the winter
EXPAND VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
  • Low barrier and flexible volunteering opportunities are needed for individuals who work, study or have other time commitments
  • Small-scale initiatives provide opportunities to connect with neighbours

INCREASE AWARENESS OF EXISTING PROGRAMS

Most participants were surprised to hear about the existing programs within Burnaby.

They recommended stronger promotion of existing services by:

  • A list directly given to newcomers when they arrive to Canada
  • Social media
  • Newsletters
  • Posters
  • Billboards

Opportunities for Social Connectivity

NEXT STEPS

We are currently in the process of sharing preliminary research findings with community partners. Phase 2 is scheduled to be completed in Spring 2022.

THANK YOU

We are thankful to all our many community members who spent their time sharing their experience and thoughts with our team.

We would also like to thank our partners, listed below:

Primary Funders:

Simon Fraser University – Community-Engaged Research Institute (CERi)
Vancouver Foundation – Convene Grant

Community Partners (Burnaby Social Isolation Working Group):

Burnaby Division of Family Practice
Burnaby Family Life
Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table
Burnaby Neighbourhood House
Burnaby Public Library
Burnaby School District
Fraser Health Authority
MOSAIC
Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC)
United Way
YWCA Techlink

In-kind resources provided by:

Burnaby Division of Family Practice
Burnaby Primary Care Networks
Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC)
Burnaby Neighborhood House
YWCA Techlink

OUR RESEARCH TEAM

Principal Investigator:
Dr. Surita Parashar

Research Advisor:
Anna Vorobyova

Lead Researchers & Co-facilitators:
Azra Bhanji (abhanji@burnabydivision.ca)
Catherine Trudeau (ctrudeau@burnabydivision.ca)

Phase 1 Co-facilitator:
Dhanashree Sangaokar

PCN Community Engagement Coordinator:
Andrea Creamer (acreamer@burnabydivision.ca)

Key Community Lead:
Thea-Lynne Fiddick

Community Consultants:
Ana Maria Bustamante
Gisela Briceno
Margaret Manifold
Melody Monro
Pilar Sain
Sangeeta Bhonsale
Veronica De Jong