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Health and wellbeing

Creating space to talk

To empower our communities, Peter Lefort argues that we first need to look after ourselves. This means not only understanding how we are feeling, but being able to speak about it honestly.

By Peter Lefort, England Country Manager, Eden Project Communities.

As individuals, we are constantly striking a fine balance between the things which give us meaning and the things which give us energy. We need both; meaning to give us a sense of identity and purpose, and energy to give us the drive and capacity to be able to make things happen.

Too often, however, when working in, with or for communities, the things which give us meaning and the things which give us energy are the same. This can be good, sometimes. If our project is going well then it can be the best feeling in the world. More usually though, when things are going badly, as they always will from time to time, we are left physically and emotionally shattered.

With technological advances meaning that we are able to stay switched on 24/7, anywhere in the world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find reasons to switch off. How can you justify going for a walk, when there are emails to be sent? What would someone think if they found out you were watching TV instead of finishing that report? Too often we downplay the importance of doing nothing, when in reality these actions are vital to our physical, mental and emotional health. Our search for meaning will never be complete, and it can be incredibly hard to look somewhere else for our energy needs.

If communities are to become more empowered, vibrant and resilient in the next few years, then a significant change is required in the way we understand and communicate about how we look after ourselves.

Even if we all individually became adept at recognising and acting on our own needs, we would still need to overcome society’s collective silence on wellbeing.

When was the last time you really told someone how you were doing? We are incredibly sophisticated at putting on a brave face and refusing to show weakness. But when was the last time someone told you how they were really doing? It doesn’t happen very often, and we are all suffering as a result.

At Eden Project Communities, our response to this is all about permission. Permission for people to act in ways which may be counter to existing social norms, but which are absolutely in keeping with our natural instincts. In times of crisis – from terrorist attacks to heavy snow – we collectively find implicit permission to break out from our normal roles and act in ways towards each other which are full of proactiveness, co-operation and empathy. But when we consider things to be business as usual, it can be incredibly hard to reach out to others.

The Big Lunch is a direct challenge to this behaviour. It’s nothing new; people have been sharing food with their neighbours since the dawn of time. But it works because it offers friendly and accessible permission for people to take a first step in reaching out to their community and making meaningful connections. Our network of community activists across the UK works on a similar level; it’s not hard to be part of a peer-network, but sometimes we need the permission to really bring ourselves to it, including our frustrations, our dreams and all our insecurities.

These internal factors are just as important as anything external facing us over the next ten years. We definitely need systemic change from government nationally and locally, but until we are able to take collective responsibility for acknowledging and prioritising wellbeing, then our communities will never truly be resilient.

Click to explore the Empowered Communities area of our website.