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Building community resilience in times of adversity

Strong networks and social capital help rural communities cope with challenging times.
Here’s how to foster these traits.

Social capital is the quality of relationships between community members, and is one of the biggest factors in building community resilience. "Communities with strong social connections cope better in the tough times," says Martin Heppell, Partner and Facilitator at The Resilience Project. "Tolerance, trust and cooperation are all so important and really help communities to pull through when they encounter serious challenges."

Building social capital in communities is often achieved through some common factors:

  • Support networks

    Individuals rely on a sense of community to feel supported and understood. In rural communities this is essential, as people need to be surrounded by others who understand the unique stressors that exist in rural life. Reducing social isolation by starting clubs, groups or regular events helps people feel they have a support network.

  • Strong leadership and communication

    Community leadership must exert authority and direction during and after adversity. This can be helped by credible and timely communication. Social media can help deliver this communication quickly and effectively. If leadership isn’t communicating, people can feel lost and as though nobody is looking after their interests, which can reduce community resilience.

  • Shared community values

    By building partnerships with local government, community members have a forum to discuss concerns and to contribute to their community. Collaboration and a shared commitment allow people to think about what is in the best interest of the community. This cooperation gives people a sense of ownership of their community, and increases their sense of belonging.

  • Adequate community resources

    If a community has the facilities it needs, whether that be schools, medical centres or psychological help, it can add to the feeling of social connectedness, which leads to increased resilience.

  • A shared commitment to recovery

    When a community shares the same perception of the adversity they’ve encountered, they can work together to find ways to overcome it. Rituals such as memorials can unite people in a common goal, and bring closure after a traumatic event.

  • Building social capital from a young age

    Helping children engage at school can create a strong sense of social capital in both children and adults. Parents who become involved with school events and activities are able to form social networks and feel they are part of the wider community. Children who learn to form social networks and understand how to recognise and talk about their problems grow up with a strong sense of resilience, ensuring the community stays strong as they grow up.

Footnotes

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