Property people talk belonging

The funny thing about belonging is that you know it when you feel it, even when it remains difficult to describe. Our Community Development team at Frasers Property Australia have the tools it takes to transform the notion of belonging from the abstract into lived experience.

02 October 2021

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘belonging’ as being in “the right place” and of a state of feeling “happy or comfortable” in that place. Yet for most of us, describing what belonging means and the value it adds to our lives can be a challenge. We know we need it, but how do you get it? Where does it come from? And if belonging stems from being in the right place, what role does place play in whether we’re happy, connected, and fulfilled?

If those questions hurt your brain, you’re not alone.

Writers, poets, and songwriters have been striving to capture the magic and essence of belonging since the birth of the alphabet, and yet, despite the passage of several millennia, that endeavour remains a work in progress.

The good news is that there is a tireless team of people at Frasers Property Australia who think, talk, and work in the belonging space all day, every day. We sat down with them to explore how communities are created and how to build up the ties that bind.

What does the idea of ‘belonging’ mean to you?

Sarah MelodySarah Melody, Community Development Manager, NSW:

I think it’s more of a sense. A sensation of feeling at home. And this is never more apparent than when you feel recognised and accepted. It’s also about having your needs met. I have a background in social sciences, which keeps bringing me back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In this theory, the more a person feels their needs are being met within a particular group or system, the more they feel they belong. The more they feel at home.

Marion AllardMarion Allard, Community Development Manager, QLD:

I’m French, so to me, belonging is a big, big thing. I left home when I was 19, without family or even speaking the language. Belonging is really about finding that connection with a place and its people. And to be able to fit in — which can be challenging at times — but also feel accepted for being you.

Clare Swanson

Clare Swanson, Community Development Manager, VIC:

For me, belonging is feeling content, safe and happy. Feeling at home. It’s about people valuing what you bring to the party. That might be your presence, a good laugh, or maybe even your legendary chocolate ripple cake. It’s about knowing that you’re welcome and you are part of a whole.

Michelle MrzyglockiMichelle Mrzyglocki, Community Development Manager, WA:

I think it’s about where you feel safe and heard. Accepted and valued, even. Belonging is about finding your tribe and feeling supported and cared about - exactly as you are; it is fundamental to our sense of happiness and wellbeing as one of our basic human needs.

Tell us about a time or place where you really felt a deep sense of belonging

Sarah: I’ve lived in a few different places over the years. When I feel I belong, it’s when I feel that sense of comfort. I know where my local cafe is, the service station, and where to find all my basic needs — and that’s just the start of it. This then evolves into recognising people as you walk down the street, bumping into and saying hi to neighbours.

When you’re new to somewhere, you can feel a bit like an outsider. But all of these building blocks help to bring it together, making it feel like home.

Clare: Children, pets, and food are the great connectors. I don’t know who said that, but I know it to be true, because since moving into our house about four years ago, we have used all those tools to connect with our neighbours.

Our kids are often out in the street, playing with other kids in the neighbourhood. And obviously, when they get together and start talking, it gives an excuse for the adults to get chatting as well. The same goes with dogs. There’s always that ‘hello’ and a bit of small talk when you cross paths with someone else while walking – it’s nice.

We’ve gotten to that point now, that when we’ve had a family birthday and I’ve baked one of those bright green cakes covered in lollies that only a kid could love, it’s just second nature to pop over to our neighbours and share the love. And it’s reciprocated – we were recently invited to our neighbour’s house down the street for a slice of cake and to sing happy birthday. It’s all those little incidental conversations that have helped us build that sense of belonging.

Michelle: It also depends on what hat you’re wearing. Obviously, belonging in a family setting is very different to belonging in my choir, who get together every year at Christmas time. It’s a different level of sharing that goes on in those spaces.

How much do you think the feeling of being connected and contented with others can be influenced by the place you’re in? What role does ‘place’ play?

Sarah: There’s this theory of ‘bumping places’, which is based on the work of Jim Diers. The idea is that community is built on relationships and that people develop relationships through frequent contact with others. So, if you want to build a community, you need to create places for people to bump into each other. And I just think that’s just so brilliant; it’s so true. The more we create opportunities for people to bump into each other and say ‘hi’, the more they start feeling a connection. And the more they feel a connection, the more they feel like a part of their environment. So, I think place plays a vital role.

Marion: I think the influence goes both ways. So, if you’re in France, that’s the space that you’re in. And that space in France? That becomes part of you as well. Your connection with them goes both ways because they can influence each other. It’s correlated, the place and the people, and I don’t think they can be separated.

Michelle: There are two parts to this; the hardware and the software. People need places to gather, which is where the hardware comes in. Community and shared places that are well designed are, I think, wonderful contributors to how people connect. You need to make the best setting possible for people to come together.

The software is the people, the effort, and the moments that bring humans together. I view my role in the community development space as the enabler. I’m not there to make stuff happen, but to create the best possible set of circumstances to help bring that community’s vision to life

What are you proud of when it comes to creating communities with resilience and spirit?

Clare: I’d say it’s enhancing people’s wellbeing. Loneliness is at its highest, they’re calling it an epidemic. If we have an opportunity to decrease loneliness by increasing connection, then that will affect mental health in our communities moving forward. And mental health affects everything from your physical and financial health to your lifestyle and success. It has so much impact. So, to me, it’s helping people improve their wellbeing. That’s what I’d be most proud of.

Marion: I’m most proud when things come organically. They do it all by themselves. During COVID, for instance, at Brookhaven we had heaps of new mums. They had nowhere to go and were very limited in their movement. I’m not a storyteller, but I grabbed a book and said ‘hey, I’m just going to read a story in the park’.

That was my time to give back to the community. Just seeing them sitting there, coming out and congratulating each other for leaving their house — even if they were half in their PJs. At that moment, it made me really proud that I could build a safe space and help them connect. And they’ve continued that conversation, they’ve taken it on board and have made it their own.

It’s heart-warming, seeing these people continue to come together, and helping each other on the community’s Facebook groups. It’s inspiring, but it’s also more than that. It’s not even just proud. It makes you think even further about how you can continue to make a difference.

Belonging together

There’s no easy answer to the question of how to build belonging and stronger communities at the neighbourhood level. But people like Marion, Sarah, Clare, and Michelle prove that a nurturing mindset and a deep understanding of what makes humans tick are invaluable ingredients along the way.

Read more from the Live proud magazine