Getting to know Lainey Martin

A Hey Neighbour Collective research assistant tells us about the joy and importance of getting to know your neighbours.

We recently caught up with Lainey Martin over a video call. She’s a Geography student at SFU and a research assistant with Hey Neighbour Collective who’s finishing her work with the Collective soon. We talked about living in Vancouver, gerontology, loneliness, and colonization. 

Great to meet with you today, Lainey! First off, do you live in a “multi-unit residential building?”

Yes! I do. It’s a broad term and a mouthful. I rent an apartment in a condo building. 

Has working with the Collective made you a better neighbour?

Probably, yes. I’ve always put candy out for Halloween – I’m trying to do more now. So, our building has fire alarms going off quite a lot, and we live on the 11th floor. There’s a single mom on my floor and I always go knock on her door now and my partner, Ally, and I help the kids down 11 floors. Ally carries them so I guess she’s the true hero! I hadn’t always thought about our neighbours as being part of our day-to-day. But there are lots of things we have to negotiate, share, and cooperate about. It’s also normal to not always like every single neighbour, but compassion helps.

How is your housing situation?

Renting from a condo owner – as opposed to living in a purpose-built rental – can be scary. Any day there can be a for-sale sign out front. My friends joke about how having a partner is more of a financial decision than a romantic one. The upside of renting is I’m not on the hook for repairs like leaky condo roofs.

How did you connect with the Collective?

In Spring 2020, I did a course in urban studies called “Cities and the Environment.” The professor also ran a field school to go to Finland with Meg Holden, who directs the Hey Neighbour Collective research team at SFU. I applied, but then COVID happened. As it turned out, Dr. Holden was also looking for undergraduate research students, which worked out great for me.  At Hey Neighbour, I also get to work with Dr. Meghan Winters (SFU Health Sciences) and Dr. Atiya Mahmood (SFU Gerontology.) They’ve helped me see perspectives on issues that I might not have otherwise seen. I feel super lucky to have been involved in some really great work with the Collective. There are a couple of articles I wrote. One is about the Photovoice project I worked on and the other is about making cities happier by bursting social bubbles post-COVID

Lainey with her advisor Dr. Meg Holden as they collate, package, and organize surveys to go out to all Brightside property buildings in Fall 2020.
Lainey with her advisor Dr. Meg Holden as they collate, package, and organize surveys to go out to all Brightside property buildings in Fall 2020.

What are you focusing on in your studies?

I’m an undergraduate in Global Environmental Systems, in the Department of Geography. It’s basically a program that lets you study human and social systems and physical geography. I thought I was going to like the physical science side more initially, but the social science side grew on me. The link between people and land is a constant ebb and flow of relationships. In order to do good policy work, you need to understand the human and physical environment together.

I did a minor in Indigenous Studies and completed a certificate in Urban Studies, too. There’s definitely a widespread push (beyond our work at the Collective) to acknowledge the effects of colonization across a range of social issues. I haven’t done a lot of work on that, but certainly, colonization has an effect on loneliness and belonging through violence and the separation of families and cultures.

You’ll be leaving the Collective in a couple of months. What’s next?

I’ll be crossing the stage for graduation, in June, which is exciting. Then I’m taking a couple of years off to work. I’m thinking about working in a field related to the Collective – something involving social support or community development. I’d like to travel when it’s safe and go back to school eventually for urban planning. I’m interested in how urban planning shapes communities.

What’s new in loneliness and social isolation?

Do you mean personally?! Just kidding. I’m working on a resident survey for our Brightside and Catalyst partners. We’ve received a few hundred responses and are starting data analysis. We’re also making photo books from the Photovoice project we did in fall 2021 to give to participants.

Why does loneliness matter?

A lot of us have experienced loneliness over the last two years and we know how awful that feels. It’s a key social determinant of health. If people feel connected, it helps with a lot of things, including resiliency in the face of climate change and other natural disasters. My colleague Robyn Lee and I are working on an upcoming post that has to do with the recently-published Psychology of Loneliness report. This research came out of the Campaign to End Loneliness, a UK-based initiative signed by Baroness Diana Barran (UK’s Minister for Civil Society). Loneliness is a contributor to mental health issues including depression and anxiety.

If you’re more socially connected (therefore less lonely) you have more social supports to help you with health issues or things that come up, especially in older age. I’m interested in the resiliency side because my academic background is focused on environmental studies and climate change. I find it interesting how well-connected communities are resilient against natural disasters because they have a network established before something happens.

How has COVID impacted your understanding of loneliness?

I think with COVID too, we’ve seen how important social connection is in combating loneliness. It’s really come to the forefront of public attention. I started with the Collective in May 2020, which was interesting timing as that was also at the beginning of the pandemic. I feel like the pandemic gave me a greater understanding of loneliness. It made it easier to understand how important it was because we were all experiencing it at the same time. And I’d never worked remotely prior to this, but most people in the Collective I’ve only met on Zoom!

With the pandemic, I watched neighbours coming together more. From my own personal experience, I’ve been more friendly with neighbours throughout this time, because I wasn’t seeing friends as much, but I also understand the importance of checking in with neighbours.

What are the three things we should know about the Collective and its work?

Well, there’s the mission: to communicate the importance of social connection in multi-unit residential buildings. It’s also cool that the Collective is made up of various partners and research teams – the point of that is to bring together different perspectives and approaches, to learn from each other. And the research: we’re specifically engaged in community-engaged research. It’s meaningful connecting with communities, asking them their opinions and sharing their knowledge.