Published: 23 July 2021. Written by: Kat Poole.
Thanks to the pandemic, there have never been so many reasons to get involved in your local community. Here are 7 ways to make a difference — you might be surprised by the beneficial knock-on effects, not to mention the Vitality points you’ll clock up…
When you think about how you might make a difference in the world, it’s easy to land on the big, ambitious stuff — like running a marathon to raise thousands of pounds for charity or volunteering one day a week. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that even the smallest steps can make a big difference, especially if we work together as a collective force.
And change does actually start at home. Where we once might have passed people on the street with a polite nod, the last 16 months have seen communities come together like never before. Support bubbles were formed, neighbours helped out neighbours, and we actively sought ways to connect with — and be there — for one another.
It also saw us rediscovering our local areas. With time outdoors a precious commodity, parks became a haven, finding new walking routes was as exciting as going on holiday (well, almost), and we paid attention to our local high streets — shopping small and supporting the businesses on our doorsteps.
Almost half of people in the UK think Covid will have a positive impact on how much we care about other people and the environment, with 37% seeing supporting others as the biggest benefit of being part of a community. And even as the world opens up, there’s no reason to stop the good work.
Here at Vitality, we’re big believers that by doing positive, healthy things, the whole of society can benefit. So, whether you’re already getting involved in local schemes and want to do something more, or just looking for a way to start, here are seven small ways you can channel that community spirit.
1. Go litter picking
We’ve all been there: wandered through the local park and spotted rubbish that someone hasn’t put in the bin. But picking that litter up and disposing of it properly not only helps protect wildlife, it can also have hugely positive benefits for your mental and physical health. You’ll be spending time outdoors (great for creativity), exploring new areas (which can boost happiness levels), switching off from tech (helping to lower stress levels), and you may even meet other like-minded people. Keep Britain Tidy relies on volunteers to eliminate waste (over half a million of them and counting) with their regional campaigns and an army of #LitterHeroes. You can find out more and register your interest here.
2. Donate to your local charity shop
According to world-famous tidier Marie Kondo, there’s a life-changing magic in decluttering your life. And here’s the proof: scientists from the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that clearing distracting objects from our work environments can lead to better focus and increased productivity. Previous research has linked clutter in the home to higher cortisol levels, which make us feel stressed, and even suggested it may affect the quality of our relationships. With charity shops back open after many months of closures, you can give your mental health a boost while helping people and the planet: donate your unwanted goods instead of throwing them away, and you’ll help organisations generate much-needed income and prevent more items ending up in landfill. Win-win.
3. Lend a helping hand
Social distancing undoubtedly made it harder to connect — especially with those in our communities already struggling with isolation. But there are still ways to help. Age UK has ideas for volunteering opportunities in your area, which should open up further as restrictions ease, including becoming a digital buddy and helping out in local charity shops. With Good Gym, you can find ‘missions’ in your local area — such as gardening and dropping off groceries — and make getting there part of your weekly exercise. It’ll boost your physical activity levels, but the other benefits might surprise you: a recent study led by the University of Harvard found that people who volunteer regularly have a reduced risk of mortality, less chance of developing physical limitations and an improved sense of wellbeing.
4. Shop at local, small and independent stores
Explored your local high street lately? Shopping close to home helps smaller retailers stay open, giving an invaluable boost to the local economy and the communities within them. There’s a bonus for the environment, too: local shops often have a much smaller carbon footprint than big stores. If you’re shopping for fresh produce, you’re more likely to find in-season fare, which means a smaller journey from field to fork. And if you can walk or cycle there, even better — you’ll be helping to reduce air pollution and traffic while clocking up your Vitality points.
5. Become a community dog walker
Multiple studies have shown that caring for animals boosts our mental and physical health — helping to reduce stress, blood pressure and heart disease; relieve loneliness; amp up our happiness; and help us make connections with other people. Organisations such as The Cinnamon Trust and CareDogs connect volunteers with elderly and terminally ill people who need practical help looking after their pets, meaning they can keep those all-important relationships in their lives. So you can do some good for other people, knowing it’s doing you good, too.
6. Help out at parkrun
For free community events like parkrun, volunteers are essential for keeping things organised, safe and fun for everyone. And offering your own time can be seriously rewarding: a study from the Universities of Southampton and Birmingham showed that people who volunteered experience better mental health than those who don’t, and particularly those over the age of 40. It’s really easy to get involved — simply set up a parkrun profile and search for events and roles near you. And remember, you can earn Vitality points every time you run or volunteer at a parkrun, and nominate someone else who has made a big impact for our Volunteer of the Month award.
7. Set up a neighbourhood WhatsApp group
As the theme tune goes, everybody needs good neighbours. And multiple studies have shown that getting acquainted with the people in closest proximity to you can have mental health benefits, helping to lower loneliness and worry. And there’s one easy way to do that: set up a neighbourhood WhatsApp group. You can keep each other updated, look out for vulnerable or isolated people, and help keep your environment a happy one. Just remember to set some ground rules (what it’s for, and what it’s not), and you’ve got a ready-made community on your doorstep.
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