The good street and good neighbour
6 April 2020 at 8:21 am
Matiu Bush is the founder of One Good Street, a simple grassroots platform harnessing the power of community to help older and vulnerable people at risk of social isolation. He’s this week’s Changemaker.
A health clinician and designer by trade, Bush founded One Good Street (OGS) after witnessing first-hand the need to coordinate acts of community kindness.
He could see that people in the community wanted to help, or were already helping, their vulnerable and elderly neighbours at risk of social isolation. And he saw the benefit a platform such as OGS could bring in making that assistance more efficient.
What started as a small Facebook group has now grown to a movement thousands of people strong, and spanning across three states. It not only coordinates random acts of kindness, but helps stretched health professionals and services.
For his efforts, Bush was voted a winner in this year’s Pro Bono Australia Impact 25 Awards.
The organisation is now playing an important role in the COVID-19 crisis, setting a good example of how to support an isolated and lonely neighbour, from a safe distance.
In this week’s Changemaker, Bush discusses tips for juggling a busy workload, managing growth and impact, and why community spirit is more important than ever in the time of coronavirus.
Where did the idea for OGS come from?
I look after a GP who’s retired on our street, who is 84 years old, and I realised how much extra support he needs to live and flourish in our community. He was receiving formal care, but I knew that there was a much stronger informal network around this individual that continued to support him. At the same time, I was working with community nurses in the aged care sector, realising that the care workers and nurses were often frustrated that they needed more support but couldn’t get it based on the funding and resources that were available to them. Then I looked at the informal system, which was neighborhood Facebook groups, and realised that we could repurpose and harness all of that social good that’s happening on our very doorsteps to support older people.
The initiative has grown a lot since you first started it in 2017, how have you managed growth with impact?
It’s a real focus on an ecology of practical, tangible things to do for older people. OGS is not about advocacy or policy, it’s strategy and action.
Another strength of the organisation is that it acknowledges that people already do great things in their own neighborhoods, and doesn’t try to introduce anything new but seeks to articulate and highlight the great things that neighbours do for each other on a regular basis, particularly for older people.
On our website we accredit streets as being “caring streets” for older people, by changing the colour of a street on a map that’s on our website. This visually highlights the best street to age in because of all of the neighbour-initiated care support networks that are around older people. So in essence, OGS can have scalability and spread because the activity already exists. This just makes it far more visual and articulate, and celebrates all of those things. It also requires little moderation because the people who join it are self-selecting as being people who are incredibly pro-social, but also are looking to improve the experience of older people.
How has COVID-19 changed the way you operate?
We’ve become incredibly busy. The first week was a flood of calls from new groups needing advice. OGS was able to provide some strategic advice for them and also redirect a lot of resources to those that are already working in the space, such as community nurses, care workers, Rotary, Meals on Wheels, all of the traditional people that had been involved in reducing isolation and loneliness that were there before COVID-19 and will be there after it as well. We started distributing parcels of food in the first week. I think we had 30 care packages that were distributed through the community nurses and the people that were going into the homes of the most isolated and lonely.
Our volunteers have been writing letters, sending postcards, making phone calls to people at risk of social isolation, but it’s very minimal contact so it keeps everyone very, very safe. But at the same time, because we’re doing spatial distancing does not mean we have to do social distancing.
Pre-COVID we supported programs such as an intergenerational choir, a cycling without age program, and we did nursing home visits, but we’ve had to suspend all of that. Instead, we’ve developed flyers that anyone can put in their neighbour’s letterbox which tells them who we are and to please let us know if they need any support if they’re self isolating and quarantining.
So there are lots of ways to just check in, share resources, and share information, and continue on with creating new normal patterns of connection in a time which is not normal.
How do you manage your time between running OGS and your day job?
I am ruthlessly efficient with all correspondence. So if I receive something from you I will take action. If I have enough precision for a decision, I have to make the decision then because I have a range of other obligations and duties. It’s about avoiding people who want to contribute to a conversation, but not to outcomes. We keep it lean in the inner circle of OGS. Plus, we’re so open to partnerships that we are able to share the load. We partner with organisations such as Rotary a lot because they are experts in this. We democratise, we share, we’re liberal with ideas, and we’re not precious about needing to own any part of the ecosystem which makes all our work much lighter because there’s no investment in protecting territories around doing good.
Can you tell me about any stand-out moments that have really made you love running OGS?
There are so many but one that comes to mind immediately is when a nurse from a GP clinic posted out of total desperation to a Facebook group and said: “Please help, we’ve got a 21-year-old that’s palliative, she’s dying at home, and NDIS was unable to pay for the equipment she needed to be comfortable”. She needed an electric bed, a pressure mattress, and a wheelchair with special padding because she was only 27 kilos.
People tagged OGS, and within hours we had everything she needed. Volunteers delivered and set her up completely with a wheelchair, shower chair, walker, electric recliner, an electric bed, and pressure mattress. And that meant that she didn’t have to find $250 per week in rental. That means a lot for someone who’s living in supported accommodation who has no money.
What was also beautiful was to see the cascade of support from the community in other ways too. There was a member of One Good Street who is part of an orchestra and offered to come and play the harp. It just shows you what is possible when you allow people the opportunity to support in controlled and safe ways, with consent.
How has running a project like this changed the way you see the world?
A big thing I’ve realised is that there is a power on social media to harness community good, and using both digital platforms and in-person as well is the perfect combination. There’s not one without the other. You don’t need to demonise social media because it’s not the cause of isolation. We are actively using social media to reduce isolation and loneliness.