Alden Arnold, AEV project manager, reflects on the association’s recent conference, and the importance of creating connected communities.
Reflecting on the recent AEV Conference at Manchester Central last month, I was struck by how connected it felt. Connectedness is a difficult quality to pin down I admit, but the atmosphere and the constant hubbub in the coffee and lunch breaks almost gave the impression of a family get-together.
Perhaps I’m over-sentimental, and this was just standard ‘networking’, but if there’s one thing that stood out in terms of conference content for me, it was the focus on people – human beings – and their wellbeing, and I’m certain that our community of businesses is a powerful force for change in that direction.
The level of interest and discussion that followed the conference items on wellbeing and mental health revealed that our members are very well aware of the issues at stake. I’ve discussed mental health at length previously and one of the factors that stands out as a predictor of mental wellbeing is community.
Feeling part of a community contributes to mental and physical good health. Isolation and loneliness lead to precisely the opposite. These are the facts. We all want to be valued, cared for and looked after, and that’s when we are at our happiest and our best. As an industry I believe we want to be at our best, as much as possible.
It’s said that there are four key elements to a sense of community. Membership – a feeling of belonging; influence – a feeling that you are heard and listened to; reinforcement – the fulfilment of your needs; shared emotional connection – that personal closeness and trust, built on positive, rewarding meetings and shared passions and beliefs.
You can’t just put people together in a room and expect community to emerge. Building that sense of community out of these four elements is part of our job, and that means taking every opportunity to facilitate community building on the part of our members.
The fundamental point is that any meetings (providing they are positive, enjoyable and productive) – online or face to face – helps to strengthen and build our community, while furthering the business needs of our members.
AEV Conference in July definitely felt like a community gathering, and even though it’s an annual event, it is an essential moment for starting and cementing community bonds and relationships. After the conference we were also very clear that we wanted a party – not a networking drinks evening. We were celebrating 15 years of the AEV, but primarily we wanted people to have fun together.
But we need other tools to help us build and strengthen our community because of the physical distances between our members. The AEV’s working groups, quite apart from their core functions, are also important meeting points, allowing our members to cross paths regularly, and we’ve also enjoyed real success online with LinkedIn, WhatsApp, and most recently Slack, in bringing members together to discuss and debate.
Putting the wellbeing of people first means making sure they’re part of a trusted community, one they feel they can fall back on when the going gets rocky. Logically, if we want to bring in the best, and keep them at their best within the industry, then we must look after ourselves and those around us. And we’re doing it.