During the last ten days the Treehouse Village community – like thousands of others across the globe – has had to adapt to uncertainty in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our members, who span three countries and two continents, have found themselves under various levels of government lock-down, with children sent home from school indefinitely, work disrupted, and social lives upended.
In Bridgewater, the future home of our cohousing development, social gatherings of more than five people have been prohibited following a provincial declaration of a state of emergency on Sunday, March 22. Parks and beaches have been closed, and citizens are being asked to leave their home only for essential items and services.
Thankfully, our community is well-positioned to weather this storm. In the face of COVID-19, our progress hasn’t stalled: instead, we’ve pulled together and are barrelling forwards with renewed commitment to our vision of building a resilient neighbourhood.
Not only have our members found that working on our development is an excellent distraction from the boredom of social isolation, we’ve also been able to draw emotional support from each other in these trying times.
But how exactly have we been able to keep the “social” in “social distancing”? Our success rests on the strong foundation that we’ve built together over the past year or more.
1 – We check in with each other
We start and end each of our meetings with a check-in round. This gives each person an opportunity to express how they are feeling as they begin and leave a meeting. Checking in allows us to be sensitive to each others’ emotional state. If, for example, I know that you’ve rushed to this meeting from a doctor’s appointment where you received important news, I’m going to be more understanding if you appear distracted.
As more and more of our members have had their daily lives interrupted by COVID-19, these check-in rounds have become an important way for us to vent our fears and frustrations, to realize that we’re not alone with our anxieties, and to reflect on our own mental health.
2 – We are committed to compassion
All members of our community have agreed to uphold a set of Community Standards, which we established together. These community standards govern how we interact and work with each other, both in meetings and beyond. Key among these standards is a commitment to practising Non-Violent Communication, being gentle with each other, and being forgiving to ourselves and others.
Our community’s commitment to compassionate, empathetic interteraction has proven invaluable during these uncertain and anxious times. Our regular reminders to be kind to ourselves and each other have taken on a new poignancy as some of our members navigate reduced capacity to work on the project because of increased childcare demands, unstable home internet connections, and increased stress in other areas of their life.
3 – We are intentional about community-strengthening
During this time of social isolation and social distancing, we’re less likely to have accidental or spontaneous social interactions. Being sociable now requires a bit more forethought and intentionality. Luckily, our members are well-versed in the idea of intentional community.
One of the primary draws of cohousing is the idea of living with people who actively invest in the community. We’ve been working with a team of architects to ensure the physical layout of our neighbourhood maximizes potential for social interactions – but we’ve also been intentional about community building throughout the entire development process.
We’ve been hosting virtual coffee hours, sending notes of appreciation, and purposefully getting to know each other. As a result, many of us have found that our interactions with other Treehouse members have been barely affected by the pandemic, when many of our other social circles are now struggling.
4 – We are no strangers to remote participation
Our members currently live as far away as California and England, so we were using Zoom well before COVID-19 made it a necessity! As such, we have a well-established Zoom etiquette, including hand gestures for a range of common phrases such as, “I can’t hear you,” or, “I agree”. We even have a couple of in-house Zoom experts, who support our membership in Zoom usage, and they can do fancy things like sending us all to virtual break-out rooms. Sociocracy makes online (and in person) meetings a whole lot less chaotic, because we speak one at a time in rounds.
When the pandemic forced us to cancel a planned weekend retreat, we even took that online! Watch out for Becky’s upcoming blog post about our Virtual Retreat!
5 – We look to the future
Treehouse Village as a whole is premised on hope: hope that we can design and build a neighbourhood that encourages us to have a lighter footprint on the earth, be more connected with our neighbours, and be healthier and happier as a result. We’re working together to build something for our future, and our children’s future, that is better than what society currently offers us.
And this is surely the most critical aspect of remaining resilient during the current pandemic: that we maintain hope that, together, we will come through this.