Is lockdown less stressful for people living in gated communities?
Isolation and loneliness have been a hallmark of the pandemic – but have people in community schemes fared better that those living in the suburbs? Omar Kinnear, founder and developer of community communications portal, ResidentPortal, believes the answer is a resounding yes.
“By definition, gated complexes are closed communities and they offer a safer space for people to interact and socialise with neighbours, than people living outside their walls, especially in the cities,” he says.
“And although lockdown has naturally placed great restrictions on social interaction everywhere, in many ways, it has provided opportunities for residents in gated communities to draw closer to each other.”
He says stories abound of how lockdown inspired a spontaneous outpouring of generosity towards neighbours who were either infected with Covid-19, or who had lost jobs as a result of the pandemic.
“Unlike ordinary suburbs, many community schemes use communications platforms such as ResidentPortal, which are used by complex management to streamline many day-to-day functions and to communicate need-to-know information to residents. The very fact of their existence is one way in which residents can feel a sense of belonging.
“In addition to those platforms, estate WhatsApp groups have been ubiquitously used to identify residents in need of assistance and which, arguably, have also helped to lift community spirit through the sharing of uplifting (and often, humorous) messages that can bring about a much-needed dose of immune-boosting stress relief and laughter.”
Kinnear believes this level of practical and emotional community support is very seldom experienced as effectively, outside of gated communities.
A sense of community and belonging
Karoline Halil, a director in Amberfield Ridge, an estate in Centurion, offers some examples of how shared living in that estate has created a sense of community and belonging, two essential ingredients for combating the loneliness often described as a second plague during the pandemic.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, practical help was provided when a number of volunteers registered their names with the estate manager to deliver food for families in quarantine, or to assist those in financial distress by providing them with essential supplies.
“Then, there were those families in which parents in essential services had to go to work while schools were closed. Because I’m a stay-at-home mum, I found myself looking after many of the neighbours’ kids during lockdown.
“There were always children coming through my gate or popping over the wall for me to take care of. It was mayhem at times, but what other options did these parents have?”
She shares how living in a gated community provided opportunities for socialising in other ways during lockdown. “Suddenly, it was OK for neighbours you may not have spoken to before and who had run out of some or other grocery item, to ask if you had a spare for them – and it happened often,” she says.
She compares this to the experience of her parents, who live in a suburb: “There, lockdown saw everyone living like hermits, too afraid to reach out or talk to their neighbours, whether they knew who they were or not.”
More people taking walks than ever attended an AGM
Halil describes how, when residents were allowed outside of their homes after lockdown Level 5, it seemed that suddenly everyone – even previously certified couch potatoes – was on a get-fit-drive.
“There were more people taking walks than ever attended an AGM,” she quips. “People who never spoke when passing another walker or jogger, were suddenly enjoying waving and greeting each other – never mind that you could only see half their faces behind their masks!” Again, outside of gated communities, this level of camaraderie is a rarity.
Organised events during lockdown
Efforts were made in her estate to organise events that could alleviate the sense of isolation, such as an enthusiastically supported ‘wildlife drive-through’. Hundreds of fluffy toys were placed outside people’s homes, many strategically hidden in the foliage, and residents drove around taking snapshots and sharing their ‘finds’ over WhatsApp. And once lockdown had eased a little, a sidewalk sale was organised, where people could get rid of their clutter and enjoy a ‘social distance chat’ with fellow residents who came to shop.
Extra ResidentPortal features during lockdown
To assist its users during lockdown, extra features were added to ResidentPortal, such as booking the tennis courts to allow exercise while safeguarding the need for social distancing. During hard lockdown, residents could also request visitor access through the portal – which would otherwise not be allowed.
Kinnear concludes that Halil’s story is but one of many in estates around the country.
“People in gated communities have by no means avoided their fair share of tragedy and loss caused by the pandemic. But these stories show there is much to be said for the ability of these communities to alleviate the stress that comes from loneliness and isolation.”
ResidentPortal is developed and managed by Sandton-based software consulting and development company, Business Xponent Solutions (BXS). The estate communication platform is one of the products emerging from 20 years of experience in the software industry of its founder, Omar Kinnear. One of the original developers of the SARS eFiling platform, Kinnear brings to ResidentPortal a wealth of knowledge of system performance and security.
Since 2016, around 100 complexes are using the Free Plan of ResidentPortal, and over 1000 residents, mostly in and around Gauteng, are benefiting from the way the full-featured Standard and Pro packages are simplifying their lives in their estates and complexes.
For more information, contact: Omar Kinnear, 078 798 3378